Arkansas ARC casino put on hold by several lawsuits


The idea of a casino in Pope County, Arkansas was expected to raise considerable conflicts and it hasn’t disappointed. As soon as it was announced that the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, Jerry Jones, wanted a casino in the county through his Legends company, rivals popped up to challenge him, as well as to fight the consensus of the residents. Most are opposed to a casino in their backyard and there have already been several lawsuits filed over the move – both by residents and Jones’ rivals. Those suits are causing the disruption they expected and the Arkansas Racing Commission (ARC) has now decided to hold off on issuing a casino license until the issues are settled.

ar-racing-commissions-delays-pope-county-licensesThe ARC was all but prepared to issue Legends, in partnership with the Cherokee Nation Businesses of Oklahoma, a casino license, even though there are four operators who have expressed interest. These include Kehl Management of Iowa, Warner Gaming of Nevada and the Choctaw Nation Division of Commerce of Oklahoma. Another, Gulfside Casino Partnership out of Mississippi, was denied the opportunity to be considered as a potential candidate.

That refusal led to a lawsuit against the ARC by Gulfside. The ARC had denied the application because Gulfside didn’t have any support from local public officials. That same argument for denial was applied to all other candidates – except to Legends.

There are two other lawsuits currently in the works, both brought forward by local citizens’ groups. The first was submitted by Citizens for a Better Pope County, and argues that awarding the license is a violation of part of the gambling expansion legislation from November of last year. The group argues that the legislation includes a referendum that forces a local vote in order for residents to determine who will operate and that the decision is not up to the ARC.

The third lawsuit is being driven by Hans Stiritz of the citizens group Concerned Citizens for Pope County. With support from a local justice of the peace, Joseph Pearson, and a local prosecutor, Jeff Phillips, the lawsuit argues that the license-awarding process for the new casino occurred through “illegal meetings” with a “closed-door decision.” By law, any meeting regarding casinos that involve elected officials are required to be public and have to be announced ahead of time.

It was already going to be a difficult road for a Pope County casino, given the amount of opposition to the idea, and the lawsuits are creating more turmoil. It’s unlikely that operators are scrapping their plans and will certainly continue to fight for a gambling property in the area, but they shouldn’t hold their breath. While casino licenses in Hot Springs and West Memphis will allow those areas to start to generate revenue quickly, Pope County won’t be looking at any economic gain from casinos for a long time to come.