Court kicks Pope County casino decision to Racing Commission - Arkansas Times

Wednesday 25th March 2020

Developments in the multi-faceted effort to open a casino in Pope County under a 2018 constitutional amendment that expanded casino gambling in Arkansas. It's complicated, but the matter is back in the lap of the state Racing Commission.

Late Tuesday, Circuit Judge Tim Fox give a mixed ruling on the lawsuit by Gulfside Casino Partnership of Mississippi, which said it had a valid application for a permit based on approval of their proposal by local elected officials in 2018, though they left office at the end of the year.

The state Racing Commission, which regulates casino gambling, rejected five applications in 2019 because all didn't include endorsements from any local officials. Since then, the Pope Quorum Court has endorsed the application of the Cherokee Nation, which has promised to pour almost $40 million into local governments and nonprofits.

Gulfside said both a state Racing Commission rule and a state law requiring that a casino application be accompanied by the approval of current elected officials was unconstitutional. Judge Fox agreed the state law that added this provision was an unconstitutional additional burden to the amendment. Here's the order.

In a second order, Judge Fox ruled that the Racing Commission rule requiring approval by current officeholders also was unconstitutional.

But finally, the judge ruled against Gulfside's argument that since it was the only applicant to submit a "facially" acceptable application in the initial filing period, the Racing Commission should be ordered to give it the permit. He said the Commission has the discretion to rule on the acceptability of permits and now should do so.

With the guidance in his order, he remanded the Gulfside application to be considered on its merits.

The Commission could consider the application as filed, with past approval from a local county judge. But into that new situation immediately stepped the Cherokee Nation.

In a letter to the commission, it urged the group to use the power given in another court case. Judge Wendell Griffen said the commission didn't have the power to declare a new application period, as it had done, but it could reopen the original application period for "good cause." The Commission had earlier delayed doing this pending a decision by Judge Fox. The Cherokee Nation says its application should be considered before any others because it had complied with the law and rule that once applied.

I'm awaiting a response from Gulfside.

An appeal of Fox's ruling could further delay matters. Also pending at last report was an appeal of a court ruling striking down a Pope County ordinance that required a countywide vote before county officials could endorse a casino application.

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