The Arkansas Racing Commission, which regulates casino gambling, heard again today from a Mississippi casino operator asking the commission to delay a decision on applications to run a casino in Pope County.
The Commission put off a decision on casino licensure until at least Jan. 6.
Gulfside Casino Partnership is suing the state because it contends it met the requirements of a new constitutional amendment to expand casino gambling by submitting a letter in 2018 from the county judge of Pope County backing their proposal for the one permit allowed in Pope County. That county judge left office at the end of the year. Since then, the Pope County Quorum Court and County Judge Ben Cross have backed the application of the Cherokee tribe, which has agreed to spend $38 million helping local governments.
The Racing Commission has a rule that only applications accompanied by approval of current local officials may be considered. In a recent application period, both the Cherokees, with support from current officials, and the Choctaw tribe, with no local support, submitted applications. Gulfside didn’t participate because of the lawsuit. Gulfside contends the rule on current is an illegal addition to requirements in the constitutional amendment.
The scheduled webstream of the meeting didn’t occur, so I’m short on details beyond a brief summary from a spectator. Presumably the Cherokees would be happy to get formal approval from the Racing Commission. Now or later, the Gulfside court challenge has to be decided. They’ll either have a shot at the application or the Cherokees seem likely to prevail with their local support lined up if the current rule is upheld. The Choctaws’ strategy isn’t clear. Perhaps to just hope that the process gets blown up by the Gulfside legal challenge and the competition to get the permit might start over from the beginning.
The constitutional amendment solidified and expanded the games that might be offered by existing casinos at Southland and Oaklawn. It also cut their tax rates dramatically and expanded contributions to horse race purses. It also permitted a casino in Jefferson County, already in business in limited form by the Quapaw tribe.
UPDATE: Scott Hardin, spokesman for the Racing Commission, provided this summary of today’s meeting:
The Commission set a January 6 meeting at which it will be determine whether to issue the license to one of the Pope County applicants (Cherokee or Choctaw). At this meeting, the Commission could also decide to hold issuance until litigation is completely exhausted. The meeting is set for January 6 as it is 30 business days from the closing date of the 90 day application period (November 18).
Attorneys representing Gulfside and the Cherokee presented differing opinions to the Commission today regarding whether the Commission was required to issue the license within 30 days from the close of the application period. The Commission’s ability to potentially waive this requirement was also a brief topic of discussion.