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Group wants casino kept out of Pope County

Push afoot for constitutional exclusion by Stephen Simpson | July 16, 2021 at 3:30 a.m.
A roulette wheel spins in 2018 at Cherokee Casino & Hotel in West Siloam Springs, Okla. (File Photo/NWA Democrat-Gazette/Ben Goff)

The Fair Play for Arkansas committee has proposed once again a constitutional amendment to remove Pope County as a location for a casino.

Larry Walker, a committee spokesman, said in an email Thursday morning that the group filed its petition to the Arkansas secretary of state's office for an amendment to remove Pope County as a location for casino gambling under Amendment 100 of the Arkansas Constitution.

"We are now beginning the effort to gather the needed signatures to place this on the November 2022 ballot," he said.

Fair Play for Arkansas tried to do something similar in 2020, but the petition drive failed after a court ruling.

"When we launched this campaign in June [2020], a federal judge had ruled that signatures could be submitted on petitions without a notarized witness, which would have allowed our volunteer network to operate safely within the limitations of the pandemic," said committee spokesman Hans Stiritz last year.

"Unfortunately, that ruling was stayed and will likely remain overturned. Despite the challenges of collecting signatures during this time, we were extremely encouraged by the thousands of Arkansans across the state who enthusiastically supported our efforts."

Amendment 100 was approved by voters in 2018 to authorize the expansion of gambling operations at racetracks in Hot Springs and West Memphis into full-fledged casinos. It also allowed the Racing Commission to issue one casino license each in Jefferson and Pope counties. The question of which company should be awarded the Pope County casino license has been contentious for years.

The Arkansas Racing Commission last year awarded the license for a casino in Pope County to Gulfside Casino Partnership.

The debate surrounding the potential ownership of the casino license between Gulfside Casino Partnership and Cherokee Nation Businesses is still ongoing as litigation is expected to continue throughout this year.

CORRECTION: The Arkansas Racing Commission last year awarded the license for a casino in Pope County to Gulfside Casino Partnership; a judge's ruling regarding the Pope County license is on appeal to the Arkansas Supreme Court. A previous version of this article omitted information about the license being awarded.

Print Headline: Group wants casino kept out

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