Arkansas Gaming Expansion: Casino CEOs Hope to Win Over Pope County Officials, Locals

Posted on: June 3, 2019, 01:48h. 

Last updated on: June 12, 2019, 08:12h.

Several casino CEOs are working to win over locals in Pope County, Arkansas, as sentiment in the region remains largely opposed to permitting a gambling venue from coming to fruition.

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Casino CEOs are hoping citizens and leaders in Pope County, Arkansas, come around and embrace a gaming property. (Image: Russellville Arkansas)

Five gaming companies submitted proposals to win licensure in Pope County – one of the two counties earmarked for a new casino in the ballot referendum passed statewide during last fall’s elections.

Issue 4 allowed the Oaklawn and Southland parimutuel racetracks to become full-scale casinos, and additionally created one casino license each for Pope and Jefferson counties.

But Pope voters rejected the measure 60 to 40, and added a local ordinance requiring county residents back the casino measure, otherwise it cannot be built. Regardless, the Arkansas Racing Commission took the bids last week, and will review the proposals at the agency’s next meeting on June 13.

Casino Campaign

The leading proposal comes from a joint venture between Hard Rock International and Warner Gaming. The first company needs no introduction. Warner is a regional casino operator with properties in Nevada, New Mexico, Washington, and Iowa.

Warner is already partnered with Hard Rock for the Hard Rock Sioux City and Las Vegas casino hotel resorts. The two entities are hoping to expand into Arkansas.

Chief executive Bill Warner began the company’s public relations campaign over the weekend by appearing on Talk Business & Politics, a weekly news program focused on Arkansas happenings. The casino CEO said their proposal calls for a gaming space, 300-room hotel, conference center, and of course a Hard Rock Café with indoor and outdoor live music.

“Music is a destination,” Warner stated. “We have experienced it in Iowa and Las Vegas and other Hard Rocks have experienced the same thing. Music will draw people to the property, and it’ll draw people to Pope County.” The Warner/Hard Rock venture would also feature a Bo Jackson sports complex.

I think we need to do our best to just help people understand what we would bring,” Warner added. “I think when that vote happened my guess is there was an element of uncertainty as to what a casino would be.

“I think I could talk for a half-hour about the property without even talking about the casino. And I think that this property would bring a lot of economic development to Pope County,” Warner concluded.

Other Bidders

Four additional casino operators revealed bids for the Pope gaming permit. Gulfside Casino Partnership submitted the first casino application on May 20. The others are from the Cherokee Nation, Choctaw Nation, and Robert and Ruth Kehl Family.

Dan Kehl says the company wants to build a $216 million casino with a 300-room hotel, pool and entertainment venues, convention center, and outdoor amphitheater.

“We like operating in a smaller community and think we could make a positive impact,” Kehl added. “We’re a family run business, and being involved in the community is something that we like to be a part of and we like to be impactful. We think we can make a nice positive impact.”

The Cherokee Nation has submitted plans for a $200 million casino, also with a 300-room hotel. Choctaw’s plans were not publicly disclosed.