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Casino proposal creates no buzz; state notes lack of feedback on rules

by Jeannie Roberts | January 22, 2019 at 4:30 a.m.
This rendering illustrates plans for the River Valley Casino Resort in Russellville, which includes a 600-room hotel and a 90,000 sq. ft. gaming space.

A week after the Arkansas Racing Commission published its proposed rules on licensing and running gambling facilities, no written comments have been submitted, according to a state finance agency spokesman.

"As of now, we have not received any public feedback or new letters," said Scott Hardin, spokesman for the state Department of Finance and Administration, which oversees the Racing Commission.

Notice of the 340-page draft of proposed rules, which were developed from Nevada's gambling statutes and regulations, were advertised in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette three times and is published on the secretary of state's website.

Any person speaking for or against the proposed rules must submit written comments to the commission by close of business Feb. 18 or appear in person at a public hearing held at 11 a.m. Feb. 21 in the commission's office at 1515 W. Seventh St. in Little Rock. The rules also must have approval of lawmakers. No casino applications can be made until the rules are in place.

The commission has until March 14 to have the rules in place, according to constitutional Amendment 100, which authorized placing casinos in Jefferson and Pope counties as well as alongside existing gambling facilities at the racetracks in Hot Springs and West Memphis.

Hardin also said that as of the end of the day Friday, no letter has been received from Clarksville Mayor David Rieder. The Clarksville City Council voted last week to allow Rieder to send a letter of support to the Racing Commission touting the city as an alternative site for a casino.

[RELATED: Complete Democrat-Gazette coverage of casinos in Arkansas]

By late Monday, Rieder had not returned calls for comment for this article.

Amendment 100, approved by voters in the Nov. 6 general election, states that proposed casinos in Pope and Jefferson counties must include letters of support from either the county judge or the Quorum Court. If the casino is to be built within city limits in those counties, it also must have the mayor's support.

The Clarksville interest comes after Pope County voters soundly rejected the measure in the general election. They also passed a local ordinance that would require the county judge or the Quorum Court to get the permission of voters in a local election before supporting a casino.

Controversy and a lawsuit ensued last month after the then-county judge of Pope County, Jim Ed Gibson, and then-Russellville Mayor Randy Horton submitted letters -- within days of their terms ending -- to the Racing Commission endorsing a proposal from Gulfside Partnership to build a 600-room, $254 million hotel and casino in Russellville.

Messages left with Gulfside asking if the company, which operates a casino in Gulfport, Miss., would be open to moving the proposed gambling facility about 30 miles west to Clarksville were not returned as of late Monday.

Amanda Clinton -- spokesman for the Cherokee Nation -- said Monday that it was too premature to say whether a Johnson County site would be considered.

"We're not sure what the Racing Commission will do or if the courts would be OK with it," Clinton said. "That's a long line of hypotheticals."

Amendment 100 specifically names Pope and Jefferson counties and does not give an alternative procedure or choice.

Calls left for Alex Gray, an attorney who helped draft Amendment 100 for the Driving Arkansas Forward ballot committee, were not returned as of late Monday.

Meanwhile, a judge last week dismissed the lawsuit by James Price Knight of Russellville to stop Gibson's endorsement of Gulfside Partnership.

Little Rock lawyer Josh Sanford, who represents Knight, said the lawsuit was no longer relevant in light of the recent rules changes by the Racing Commission to only accept letters of support from current city and county officials and only along with a casino application.

Metro on 01/22/2019

CORRECTION: Cherokee Nation Business officials have expressed interest in applying to put a casino in Pope County, but Shawn Slaton, chief executive officer, said company officials understand and “respect the will of the people.” Should Pope County officials decide to pursue development of a casino, Slaton said, his company would like the opportunity to illustrate how Cherokee Nation Entertainment “would be the best operating and community partner.” An earlier version of this story failed to make clear the organization’s stance on applying for a casino license.

Print Headline: Casino proposal creates no buzz; state notes lack of feedback on rules


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