It took less than two minutes Monday for a legislative committee to approve 314 pages of rules to govern casino gambling in the state.
No legislators on the Joint Budget Committee's Administrative Rule & Regulation Review Subcommittee asked questions or made comments when asked by the chairman, Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs. No one from the public spoke for or against the rules.
The document will now be filed with the secretary of state's office and will become effective 10 days after the filing date. The rules must be effective no later than March 12, as required by Amendment 100, which was passed by voters in November and allows the establishment of four casinos in Arkansas.
It's anticipated that casino license applications will be accepted beginning in mid-April to May, said Scott Hardin, spokesman for the state Department of Finance and Administration, which oversees the Racing Commission, the agency to oversee casino licensing and operation.
"The commission is pleased with the approval of the rules and looks forward to the next phase of this process, accepting applications for casino gaming licenses," Hardin said.
The public vetting process began with a 30-day comment period that started Jan. 13 and concluded with a hearing last Thursday.
"Public engagement has played a vital role in the process to this point and that influence will continue. While the rules are approved and will soon be effective, there are additional decisions that will have to be made as we implement Amendment 100," Hardin said. "From the written comments to last week's public hearing, the Commission will continue to reference the guidance Arkansans provided."
In all, 184 letters were received by the Racing Commission.
Nearly all of the comments -- written and those given orally at the hearing -- were concerning a proposed 600-room, $254 million hotel and casino in Pope County.
The Racing Commission -- in response to ongoing contention and controversy against a casino there -- edited a rule to essentially cancel out endorsements issued at the end of December just before Pope County and Russellville officials left office. The final version of Rule 2.13 requires that endorsements come only from current officials and only at the time a casino application is submitted.
Current Pope County officials, Russellville Mayor Richard Harris and Ben Cross, the county judge -- who both took office Jan. 1 -- said they fully supported the commission's revised rule.
The endorsements of local officials is required by Amendment 100, but the amendment does not specify when the letters must be submitted.
In a written report released Monday before the legislative review, Kathryn Henry, an attorney with the Bureau of Legislative Research, questioned the commission's authority to change the endorsement requirement.
"This appears to be an addition to the Rule not mentioned in the language of Amendment 100," Henry said in the report. "Can you explain the reason for this addition?"
In its response, the Racing Commission said the change came after meetings with attorneys from the Department of Finance and Administration and the governor's office.
Amendment 100, the Racing Commission said in the brief, gives them "discretion" to adopt rules that are necessary for the "fair, impartial, stringent and comprehensive" administration of the amendment.
"If the letters of support were allowed from county officials or mayors holding office in 2018, those letters would have been issued prior to the adoption of the Casino Gaming Rules by the ARC; prior to the opening of the application process; and prior to the submission of a casino gaming license application by any person or entity," the commission wrote.
Henry also took exception to several of the rules that assessed fees as well as fines for various infractions.
She referenced Arkansas Code Annotated 25-15-105, which prohibits an agency from assessing a fee or penalty without specific statutory authority.
The Racing Commission said the "old statutes governing horse and dog racing" give the commission the authority to issue fines up to $100,000 per violation of the rules.
"There are no similar statutes for casino gaming. However, Amendment 100 provides, in Section 4(c), that the ARC shall adopt rules necessary to carry out the purpose of the Amendment," the commission responded.
Amendment 100 allows for four casino licenses to be issued -- one each in Pope and Jefferson counties, which now have no legal gambling facilities; one at Oaklawn Racing and Gaming in Hot Springs; and one at Southland Gaming and Racing in West Memphis. The two racetracks now have electronic games of skill and have plans, under Amendment 100, to expand to full casinos.
A Section on 02/26/2019
Print Headline: Arkansas panel OKs 314-page casino rulebook in 2 minutes