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Hard Rock Proposes Arkansas Casino Resort in Pope County, But Residents Oppose Gambling

Hard Rock International – owned by the Seminole Tribe in Florida – and Warner Gaming, a Las Vegas-based casino operator, are partnering in hopes of obtaining licensure in Arkansas to build a resort in Pope County.

Hard Rock and Warner Gaming want to bring the iconic brand of hotels, cafes, and casinos to Arkansas. (Image: John Hart/AP)

Last November, Arkansans approved a constitutional ballot referendum (Issue 4) to legalize as many as four commercial casinos. Two of the licenses were earmarked to allow the Oaklawn and Southland parimutuel racetrack facilities to transition into full-scale gambling venues. The other permits were reserved for Jefferson and Pope counties.

Hard Rock and Warner are hoping to land one of the new “from the ground up” concessions.

We aim to deliver to Pope County a facility that will attract visitors throughout the region and beyond,” Warner Gaming CEO Bill Warner said in a release. “With its truly global reach, the Hard Rock brand will help us do that.”

Warner Gaming operates five US casinos including Hard Rock Las Vegas and Hard Rock Sioux City.

No Pope Blessing

Though Issue 4 passed last fall, the odds of a casino coming to Pope County remain long. At the same time the statewide amendment passed, voters in Pope simultaneously approved a local ordinance that says a majority of area residents must back the casino.  

While 54.1 percent of Arkansas citizens voted in favor of amending the state constitution to allow commercial gaming, Pope County voters rejected Issue 4 by 60 to 40 percent. Before a casino can come there, Pope County Judge Ben Cross must issue a letter of support, which would then need voter approval as dictated in the measure local voters did support last November. 

I will follow the wishes of the people, and the wishes of the people were spoken in my view at the November general election when they voted this issue down,” Cross stated.

Slot machines and table games went live at Southland and Oaklawn on April 1. Jefferson County leaders have given their support to the Quapaw Indians for the casino license. The Oklahoma tribe’s Downstream Development Authority says the $350 million resort called Saracen Casino will be a “twin” of the company’s Downstream Casino Resort in Quapaw, Oklahoma.

County Interested

With Pope seemingly folding on its earmarked casino, neighboring Johnson County is exploring whether it might be able to welcome the gaming resort.

County Judge Herman Houston says the state legislature – with a two-thirds majority support – could amend Issue 4 to relocate the Pope County permit to his jurisdiction. Johnson County voters backed Issue 4 by 56 to 44 percent.

State Sen. Ron Caldwell (R), who chairs the Senate Agencies Committee, wrote Houston telling him to reconsider those ambitions.

“I wish to inform you that it is my position that the General Assembly does not have the power to amend the Constitution and should not seek to claw away that power from the voters by passing an amendment,” Caldwell stated. “I do not see at this time that there is any appetite to opening the door to creating the power for the legislature to amend the Constitution over the will of the people.”

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