The citizens group that opposes a casino in Pope County filed a new legal action Friday afternoon in circuit court in Little Rock seeking an injunction against the award of a casino permit in Pope County. UPDATE: In another case, the Supreme Court declined to order a judge in another case to speed up consideration of the issue.
Citizens for a Better Pope County said the state Racing Commission had no legal authority to open a second application period for a casino permit in the county, authorized under Amendment 100 to the Arkansas Constitution adopted by voters in 2018. The group’s argument is that another round of applications was legal under commission rules only if the first round expired without an application. In fact, there were five applications, all rejected by the Racing Commission for lack of required letters of support from current elected officials in Pope County.
The citizens group backed a November 2018 referendum in which Pope County voters said there should be a local election before county officials endorsed a casino proposal. The Quorum Court approved a Cherokee casino proposal without such an election. The ordinance was ruled unconstitutional by a circuit judge and that opinion was on appeal when the Quorum Court moved to moot the issue by repealing the ordinance.
All of that, the new legal action says, doesn’t affect the argument that a second application process wasn’t legal.
This suit names only the Racing Commission. It is an appeal of an administrative action, which means Pulaski County should be the proper venue. Circuit Juge Tim Fox has resisted hearing a casino lawsuit assigned to him, but this latest legal action was assigned to Circuit Judge Chip Welch.
The petition seeks to enjoin the Commission from issuing a permit at its meeting Monday, Jan. 6. It has applications pending from the Cherokee and the Choctaw tribes, the latter without endorsement from local officials. Jerry Malone, attorney for the citizens group, is working to schedule a hearing this week.
UPDATE: Judge Welch today transferred the case to Judge Wendell Griffen. Under court rules it should have been assigned to him because of pending related litigation. Correction: I wrote incorrectly that the case was transferred to Judge Fox, who also has casino litigation pending.
UPDATE II: The Supreme Court today in a brief unsigned order declined a request from a Mississippi company, Gulfside Casino Partnership, for a temporary order to block a Racing Commission decision next week. It did expedite consideration of hearing the request for an order because Gulfside has been unduly delayed by Judge Fox in getting a hearing on its suit asserting it had met the constitutional requirement for a casino permit application last year with approval from the then-county judge. But it refused to issue any orders to Fox in the case, as Gulfside had asked.