Here’s a brief update on the machinations about the possibility of a casino in Pope County under the new Amendment 100, which expanded casino gambling in Arkansas.
* The state Racing Commission, which regulates casinos, will meet at 11 a.m. Thursday at the 1515 Building. There’s no agenda yet, but the commission can be expected to put out for formal comment the casino regulatory rules drafted by its attorney Byron Freeland and modeled after Nevada gambling rules.
UPDATE: Here’s a copy of the final draft of the rules.
* A critical change was made in the draft yesterday that pertains to the amendment-required approval of a county judge or quorum court or relevant city mayor for a casino in either Jefferson or Pople County. It says the signatures must come from those holding the office at the time a casino application is made. This will clear up premature letters of support from the lame-duck county judge and Russellville mayor on a Pope County casino proposal from a Mississippi casino operator. The application process won’t be formally open until rules are adopted.
* This change will require a new letter from the new county judge in Jefferson County, Gerald Robinson. The rule previously said the letter need only be sent after the effective date (Nov. 14) of the amendment. The previous county judge, Booker Clemons, had submitted that letter in behalf of a proposal expected from the Quapaw tribe. Robinson has said he’s a casino supporter, but he’s more important now and in a position to perhaps assert some leverage on the future development. I’ve called him about this change,
* Heavyweight lobbyists/politicos are at work all over. They include Dustin McDaniel for the Cherokee tribe, a potential applicant in Pope County; Nate Steel for the Quapaw tribe (not Cherokee as I originally wrote and an applicant in Jefferson County); Robert Moery, a former Asa Hutchinson staffer now working for the Mississippi casino group; Bill Vickery and John Goodson for the Choctaw tribe, which nominally wants a fair and open application process in Pope County but is viewed by others as hoping to block Pope County casino development to protect its casino across the border from nearby Fort Smith and, in the process, help the interests of Oaklawn Park and its expanded casino about an hour south of Russellville on Highway 7. Remember that the Racing Commission traditionally is dominated by horsemen and friends of Oaklawn Park. John Goodson, by the way, races thoroughbreds. He’s also
* Freeland didn’t respond to my question yesterday about the motivation for the rule change, but I think the influence of Gov. Asa Hutchinson and the stout opposition from the Pope County legislative delegation, particularly Sen. Breanne Davis, had something to do with it. There ARE some business people in Pope County heavily invested in pushing the Mississippi proposal.
* The new rule, if approved by the Commission and then ratified by the legislature, would effectively kill a Pope County casino for the foreseeable future. Neither the current county judge or Russellville mayor would be likely to endorse any casino proposal in the face of overwhelming popular sentiment in the November election and a local ordinance requiring a vote before their approval.
* Yes, the local ordinance is likely an unconstitutional limit on the new state amendment and somebody might sue over it. It could come up in a pending lawsuit aimed at squelching the Mississippi casino’s enlistment of the lame-duck county judge’s expression of approval (not formal approval, the judge, Jim Ed Gibson, later told the local news source, River Valley Now.)
* Here’s another fun legal wrinkle: Amendment 100 says this:
the Commission shall issue four casino licenses, one to Southland Racing Corporation (“Southland”) for casino gaming at a casino to be located at or adjacent to Southland’s greyhound track and gaming facility in Crittenden County for as long as Southland holds a license, one to Oaklawn Jockey Club, Inc. (“Oaklawn”) to require casino gaming at a casino to be located at or adjacent to Oaklawn’ s horse track and gaming facility in Garland County, one to an applicant to require casino gaming at a casino to be located in Pope County within two miles of Russellville, and one to an applicant to require casino gaming at a casino to be located in Jefferson County within two miles of Pine Bluff;
“Shall” is a powerful word in Arkansas law. There’s a theory afoot that a lawsuit could argue that the Commission MUST issue a casino license in Pope County. Yes, an opponent would argue, the amendment also provides that the Commission shall require applicants to provide a letter of support from local officials. It’s conditional in other words. Who knows?
This much is clear: Lawyers and lobbyists and political consultants will be busy for some time to come.