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Group formed to keep casino in Pope County

by Tess Vrbin | March 9, 2022 at 3:57 a.m.
A roulette wheel spins in 2018 at Cherokee Casino & Hotel in West Siloam Springs, Okla. (File Photo/NWA Democrat-Gazette/Ben Goff)

A ballot question committee formed in February to thwart another group's efforts to remove through a statewide ballot measure the provision in the Arkansas Constitution permitting a casino in Pope County.

The Arkansas Tourism Alliance has $1.1 million in cash on hand, according to its first campaign finance report filed with the Arkansas Ethics Commission. A Tuesday news release from the Alliance stated the organization's purpose was to oppose Fair Play for Arkansas, the committee that has proposed a constitutional amendment to remove Pope County as a location for a casino.

"The primary mission of the Arkansas Tourism Alliance is to educate voters on the true purpose and effect of Fair Play Arkansas and to encourage voters to decline to sign its petition," the release states.

Fair Play for Arkansas is proposing the amendment and started petitioning in July. The petition needs 89,151 signatures, which is 10% of the total votes cast for governor in the 2018 general election, by July 8 to qualify for the November ballot.

Committee spokesman Hans Stiritz did not disclose how many signatures the petition had on Tuesday.

The committee tried to do something similar in 2020, but the petition drive failed after a court ruling.

Amendment 100, approved by voters in 2018, authorized the expansion of gambling operations at racetracks in Hot Springs and West Memphis into full-fledged casinos. It also allowed the Arkansas Racing Commission to issue one casino license each in Jefferson and Pope counties.

The Racing Commission awarded the Pope County license to Gulfside Casino Partnership in 2020, but the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled in 2021 that Gulfside "is not a qualified applicant," according to court documents. The commission then issued the license to Legends Resort and Casino, part of Cherokee Nation Businesses, in November.

Legends is the source of the $1.1 million donation to the Arkansas Tourism Alliance, committee co-founder and Little Rock attorney David Couch said. The committee's other founder is former state Attorney General Dustin McDaniel.

The Arkansas Tourism Alliance aims to generate revenue and create jobs in Pope County by opening the casino there, Couch said.

"Fair Play wants to kill an economic development project that the people of Arkansas have already voted on and approved," he said.

Stiritz disagreed, saying that Pope County voted against Amendment 100 by the largest margin in the state and that whether the rest of the state could make a decision for one community is "an inherent fairness question."

"There's no recourse for a community to make its own decision about a development like this, so [another statewide vote] is really the only permanent solution to keep the casino out, like the voters of Pope County said that they wanted," Stiritz said.

Print Headline: Group formed to keep casino in Pope County


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