Pope County Arkansas Casino Proposal Delayed Following Court Ruling

Posted on: January 7, 2020, 11:26h. 

Last updated on: January 7, 2020, 12:29h.

A Pope County, Arkansas-planned gaming operation was temporarily blocked after a local judge approved a restraining order. The ruling prevents the Arkansas Racing Commission from issuing a casino license or considering applications.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen has blocked the Arkansas Racing Commission from moving forward with a casino proposal in Pope County. (Image: Associated Press/Andrew DeMillo)

The commission also canceled Monday’s meeting following the judge’s decision, Nikki Langston, an administrative analyst for the commission, told Casino.org.

The commission planned to hold a public hearing to discuss the license for the casino. Under the current proposal, the casino would be operated by the Cherokee Nations Businesses, based in Oklahoma.

Last week, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen reviewed the request for an emergency temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction.

“Based on that review, the Court concludes that a Temporary Restraining Order is warranted,” Griffen said in his ruling released on Friday.

The ruling was in response to a motion filed by Citizens for a Better Pope County, according to Fox 16 TV News in Little Rock. The group is opposed to the casino and filed a lawsuit against its opening.

Second Application Period Controversy

The citizens’ group lawsuit contends the Racing Commission improperly permitted a second application period for casino license applications. The second period violates the commission’s rules, according to the Arkansas Times, because the second period would only be allowed if no applications were received in the first application period.

In the first period, during last May, five applications were submitted to the commission, the Times reported. None were accepted by the commission in June.

So, the second application period was approved by the racing commission, according to the Associated Press. During the second period, the Cherokees submitted their application. The Pope County Quorum Count — its city council — endorsed a casino plan from the Cherokee Nation Businesses in August.

Also, last week Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox ruled the second application period was improper, given gambling regulations, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.

In November, Choctaw Nation became the second Oklahoma tribe to apply for the Pope County gaming license in Arkansas. But the application did not have required support from Pope County officials.

The Choctaw Nation operates three casino resorts and 18 other gaming venues in Oklahoma.

The planned Pope casino is the fourth and final gaming license that remains up for grabs in the state.

Casinos Elsewhere in Arkansas

The Oaklawn and Southland tracks are now functioning as commercial casinos, with table games and slot machines. Earlier, Jefferson County picked the Quapaw Nation in Oklahoma to build a casino resort in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. The tribe is planning to build a clone of its Downstream Casino Resort at a cost of roughly $350 million.

Previously, Arkansas voters approved casinos in a statewide ballot. Over 54 percent of voters supported the measure.

But in Pope, more than 60 percent of voters said they did not want a casino.

Russellville residents have opposed a casino in their Pope County town. But local officials accepted bids from gaming operators.