Proposed Pope County Casino Licensing Rules Move Onto Next Stage

Written By Derek Helling on February 2, 2024
rules book with red cover

For people in Pope County, Arkansas looking forward to what’s already been a long-awaited casino, there is a little good news. Regulators in the state have taken a small step toward issuing a license for such a casino.

At the same time, that action is a preliminary step that members of the Arkansas Racing Commission may have to repeat. The road to when a licensee may actually break ground on a facility remains quite long.

Arkansas Racing Commission forwards proposed rules for consideration

After Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin recommended a set of changes for rules governing the licensing process for Arkansas’ fourth casino, the Arkansas Racing Commission (ARC) has voted to adopt those changes. For the moment, that means the ARC’s job is done as far as this matter is concerned.

Hunter Field of News From The States reports that the proposed rules now advance to a 30-day public comment period. After that time passes, the ARC can make adjustments based on those comments should it desire to do so.

At that point, the rules must receive approval from the governor of Arkansas and the state legislature before the ARC can open the license application period. Field says that the process could be completed in April but it may take longer.

It seems that once the license application period opens, the ARC will have several candidates to consider. Some of them should be quite familiar to the ARC’s members. A little insight into what might lie ahead could appear during the public comment period.

Public comment period could foreshadow what’s to come

Some parties are expected to apply for licenses when the application period opens. That list includes the Cherokee Nation Businesses/Legends Resort & Casino and the Gulfside Casino Partnership. Both of those parties have temporarily held this license in the past.

The reason why neither do currently is the same as why the casino remains merely an idea now almost six years after Arkansas voters approved the gaming expansion. Several lawsuits have nullified the ARC’s previous awards of the license.

During the public comment period, potential applicants for the license could chime in, trying to make the process more favorable toward their bids. That might not only signal which parties are interested in the license but also how intent they are in securing it.

Given how contentious the process has been over the past five years and the change, the ARC is likely to move deliberately to avoid more litigation. For that reason, comments from likely applicants will probably carry some weight.

At the same time, there can only be one winner in this process. The ARC might have to choose between competing interests even in setting the rules. If that proves to be the case, one party might emerge as an early favorite for licensure.

The process for awarding this license has required the ARC to toe a fine line from the beginning. Even in the rules drafting process, that remains the case.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is the assistant managing editor of PlayUSA. Helling focuses on breaking news, including finance, regulation, and technology in the gaming industry. Helling completed his journalism degree at the University of Iowa and resides in Chicago

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