River Valley Now, a news outlet in Pope County, reports that a circuit judge in Russellville this morning ruled that an ordinance approved by voters last November to require a local vote before county officials could endorse a casino permit application was unconstitutional.
Judge William Pearson had a request for this ruling pending before a Quorum Court vote last night to repeal the ordinance and he said he ruled today without taking last night’s action into account.
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The ruling came in a lawsuit filed by Citizens for Pope County, a casino opposition group, which argued that the ordinance didn’t unconstitutionally add conditions to Amendment 100, adopted statewide in November as well. The amendment says only that approval of a county judge or quorum court is necessary for a permit application for a casino outside the city limits of Russellville in Pope County. The Quorum Court had ignored the election requirement in approving a proposal from the Cherokee Nation over four other potential applicants. This lawsuit claimed the Quorum Court met secretly to arrive at approval of the Cherokee bid, a complaint the judge also dismissed
A separate complaint about FOI violations is under investigation by a special prosecutor but it covers the same set of facts and the judge he didn’t find them persuasive that the law had been violated. An ethics complaint is also pending over justices of the peace potential conflicts in voting on the issue. Also still pending is a lawsuit by a Mississippi casino operator contending its approval by the county judge in office in 2018 was sufficient for its application to go forward. But the application period didn’t begin until after that judge left office.
UPDATE: The Courier in Russellville reports further that the judge ruled that a resolution approved Aug. 13 by the court that endorsed the Cherokee proposal was valid and binding. The Cherokees have promised $38 million in payments to governments and nonprofits in local development projects. The state Racing Commission has delayed awarding a permit in Pope County while this case was pending and with a hearing set on the Mississippi casino lawsuit next month.
Amendment 100 also authorized full-fledged casinos at the existing electronic casinos at Oaklawn and Southland Parks and authorized a new casino in Jefferson County. The Quapaw tribe has opened a casino annex in Pine Bluff while construction continues on a hotel casino.