Fight continues to delay award of Pope County casino permit - Arkansas Times

Thursday 2nd January 2020

Opponents of a casino in Pope County have asked Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen for a hearing on a request for a temporary order to prevent the state Racing Commission from issuing a casino permit Monday for Pope County.

Citizens for a Better Pope County, the grassroots opposition group, wants a hearing on their argument that the Racing Commission wasn't authorized to open a second casino permit application period after rejecting all five applications submitted in the first round.

They argue the second application period was allowed under the rules only if no one applied during the first period. Five companies applied. All were rejected and the second period was authorized.

The casino opponents got support on their argument today in an order issued by Circuit Judge Tim Fox in a separate lawsuit by Gulfside Casino Partnership of Mississippi that argues it had submitted a valid application in the first period. Fox tried unsuccessfully to move that lawsuit to Pope County and has said he wouldn't try the case until he cleared his docket first, which could take more than a year. But he did issue a ruling today denying a request to intervene in the lawsuit by the Cherokee tribe, which submitted a permit application in the second application period that could be acted on by the Racing Commission next week.

Under Racing Commission rules that Gulfside is challenging, the Cherokees have the required endorsement of the current Pope County Quorum Court and county judge. Gulfside contends it satisfied the constitutional requirement for local approval with approval of the county judge in 2018, who's no longer in office It argues that the Racing Commission's adoption of a rule requiring approval by current local officials wasn't allowed by the Constitution.

Fox, in denying the Cherokee intervention, noted the "plain language" of its own rules that it had no authority to open a second application period until there was a resolution of any contests of the results of the initial application period. Such a contest is the subject of the Gulfside lawsuit. Fox, in a footnote, said he was issuing no finding on other legal issues being contested.

Jerry Malone, attorney for Citizens for a Better Pope County, cited Fox's decision to deny the intervention in his motion today before Judge Griffen arguing that the Cherokee tribe should also be denied intervention in his case challenging the legality of the second application period.

The Racing Commission could adopt a rule change to allow for a new application procedure, but it would be a lengthy process and, I think, require legislative review.

In a letter to Judge Griffen, Malone asked for a hearing today or tomorrow or early Monday before the Racing Commission's scheduled 9 a.m. meeting for his request for an injunction against a casino permit award.

I expect more to come today from multiple parties.

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