Judge kicks back rejected casino application to racing panel

Thursday 26th March 2020

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) -- A judge ruled that the Arkansas Racing Commission erroneously rejected a casino application, concluding that the bases on which it was initially denied are unconstitutional.

The Racing Commission rejected Gulfside's application, along with four others, because they didn't have endorsements of local officials in office at the time of application, a rule the commission requires, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported Thursday.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox decided on Tuesday that the commission must apply the state's constitutional law and consider Gulfside Casino Partnership of Mississippi's casino application "on its merits."

Fox wrote that the endorsement requirement "imposes an additional qualification, sometimes referred to as a 'negative' qualification, beyond the plain and unambiguous language of Amendment 100."

In 2018, voters approved Amendment 100, which greenlighted one new casino in each Pope and Jefferson counties and allowed racetrack gambling expansion in Hot Springs and West Memphis.

Gulfside submitted its application last year with endorsements from two former local officials. But Amendment 100 does not explicitly say when endorsements must be dated or submitted.

"As Judge Fox's ruling confirmed, we were the only applicant for Pope County that timely complied with every requirement of Amendment 100," said Casey Castleberry, Gulfside's attorney.

The other four applicants the commission rejected in Pope County were Cherokee Nation Businesses of Oklahoma, Kehl Management of Iowa, Warner Gaming of Nevada and Choctaw Nation Division of Commerce of Oklahoma.

Fox rejected Gulfside's request to order the commission to immediately issue its license.

"It is clear from reading Amendment 100 as a whole that Gulfside's premise is incorrect and that the Racing Commission is invested by Amendment 100 with both the privilege and the responsibility of utilizing its discretion as to whether a casino license should be issued to any applicant, regardless of whether such applicant is the only applicant during an application submission period," the ruling says.

Scott Hardin, a spokesman for the state Department of Finance and Administration, said the state attorney general's office in consultation with the commission will decide whether to appeal Fox's decision to the state Supreme Court.

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