Choctaw Nation’s Funding Of Arkansas Casino Petition Has Little To Do With Pope County

Written By Derek Helling on February 17, 2022 - Last Updated on March 10, 2022
Ulterior Motives From Choctaw Nation Arkansas And Casinos

A push to amend the Arkansas Constitution to cut Pope County out of the gambling landscape in the state has a new ally. That ally’s interests might currently align with the previous proponents of the issue. The situation could easily be very different when it comes to the Choctaw Nation in Arkansas.

A different decision by the state’s racing commission would have put the Choctaw Nation on the complete opposite side of the debate. That shows how competing interests can align when convenient.

A short history of Choctaw Nation Arkansas activity

In 2018, AR voters approved the current language in the state’s constitution. That amendment allows for up to four Arkansas casinos, including one in Pope County. The Choctaw Nation, which operates several tribal casinos, was one of several entities to submit a bid for that license.

That license has been the subject of a lot of drama since. In August of 2019, the AR Racing Commission granted the license to the Cherokee Nation. The operators of the Gulfside Casino in Mississippi sued and won, then had the Commission grant them the license in June of 2020.

The Cherokee Nation then filed its own suit in October of 2020. Just a few weeks later, the Commission returned the license to the Cherokee Nation. That has since resulted in another lawsuit seeking to hold up the development of a casino in the county.

The Choctaw Nation is not a party to that lawsuit. Neither is the Arkansas group that the Choctaw Nation has allied itself with. That’s a story of two contrasting associations whose ambitions happen to align.

Fair Play Arkansas pushing for a new amendment

Fair Play Arkansas is a group of citizens in Pope County who want to prevent any casino from entering their neighborhoods. The group is currently working to gather enough signatures for a petition. That petition would put a new ballot measure up for voters’ consideration this fall.

That ballot measure would revise the current language of the constitution to remove Pope County from the list of places for a casino. The Choctaw Nation recently committed $125,000 to aid the cause.

It’s important to note that Fair Play Arkansas’ petition doesn’t strive to open the door to a Choctaw casino. It aims to prevent the operation of any casino whatsoever in the county. The group’s website calls gambling exploitative and stresses that it is unwanted.

If the AR Racing Commission had granted the Choctaw Nation the license instead of the Cherokee Nation, Fair Play Arkansas’ ambitions would be in direct conflict with the Choctaw Nation’s. However, because the decision went the way it did, the two entities have a common goal.

What’s in it for the Choctaw here? It’s quite simple.

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Choctaw Nation protecting its own bottom line

The Choctaw Nation has its own casino near Fort Smith, just about an hour’s drive away. A casino in Pope County could represent unwanted competition for that facility.

However, that proximity or the sentiments of the county’s residents obviously weren’t issues for the Choctaw Nation when it applied for the license to build a casino there. Now, it has an opportunity to block a competitor’s entry into the market, and it’s pouncing on that.

Fair Play Arkansas seems to welcome the support. Hans Stiritz, who has been distributing information about the campaign, told Max Brantley of the Arkansas Times that he was grateful for contributors like the Choctaw Nation.

It’s a great demonstration of how regulatory decisions can make allies out of groups that would otherwise have been enemies in the gambling industry. It’s also a reminder that the Choctaw Nation’s interest in what happens in Pope County really isn’t about what happens in Pope County.

Photo by Sean Pavone /
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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a lead writer for PlayUSA and the manager of BetHer. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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