Arkansas Legislators Approve New Pope County Casino License Application Rules

The Arkansas Racing Commission (ARC) green-lit a new 30-day application for casino operators that wish to apply for a casino license and establish a traditional casino establishment in Pope County. 

Following the agreement which happened after last Monday’s meeting, the ARC has decided that both digital and paper copies of potential casino operators will need to be submitted on or before June 11, 2024. Meanwhile, the official start date for the ARC to accept said applications will begin on May 13, 2024.

In addition to the filing process, the commission must meet to formally close the application period. Commissioners voted to meet on June 12 as the close-off date for them to finalize which casino operator will be chosen for the fourth casino in The Natural State.

What Has Been the Casino Industry in Arkansas Like So Far?

This latest development marks the ARC’s third attempt in five years to issue a permit in Pope County since the decision from its Arkansans citizenry to allow the establishment and operation of four casinos in the state. Recently, the local courts rejected two previous versions of licenses issued to Gulfside Casino Partnership and Cherokee Nation Business/Legends Resort & Casino, thus further delaying the building of casinos for its residents.

Back in 2018, voters approved Amendment 100 to the Arkansas Constitution. This permitted four casinos to operate in the state. The first two were written into the amendment: the existing racetracks in West Memphis (Southland) and Hot Springs (Oaklawn). Following this, the third license was issued in Jefferson County, where local support for the Quapaw Nation, which opened Saracen Casino Resort in Pine Bluff.

With the ARC setting the rules for the fourth location for a new casino in their jurisdiction, some of the longstanding casino operators have offered their gratitude for making the application process clear.

Casey Castleberry, counsel for Gulfside Casino Partnership, issued a statement following Monday’s meeting:

“We appreciate the Arkansas Racing Commission (ARC) making it clear the application period will open Sunday and close on June 12. Prior to the ARC’s deadline, we look forward to presenting our proposal to the Pope County Quorum Court and seeking a resolution of support.”

Chuck Garrett, Cherokee Nation Businesses CEO, also lauded the decision from the ARC, and hopes that this would result in the smooth process of applying for casino licenses for potential casino operators:

“Having obtained the exclusive support of Pope County Judge Ben Cross as required by Amendment 100 and a resolution of support from the Pope County Quorum Court, we anticipate being the sole qualified applicant.” 

Garrett added that the Cherokee Nation Businesses is looking forward to sending their application, noting that their 30 years of experience in gaming and hospitality shall be in full display in the event that they are chosen as the casino operators for Pope County.

What Does This Mean for Online Casinos in Arkansas?

On the side of online casinos, Arkansas’ laws are a bit unclear. When voters decided to legalize an expansion of gaming in the state of Arkansas six years ago, this included up to four brick-and-mortar casinos, in-person and online wagering and online poker. The law does not explicitly prohibit Arkansans from online gambling, but it also does not explicitly allow it.

According to the State Rules of the ARC about casino gaming, only online poker is allowed as a form of online gambling. Furthermore, Rule 5.140 – “Acceptance of Wagers” – states that operators cannot accept wagers on “any game other than poker and its derivatives as approved by the Commission and published on the Commission’s website”.

A key difference between online poker and other online casino games is that poker is peer-to-peer, while casino games like blackjack or roulette are played against the house. In every US jurisdiction, the two are defined and regulated separately. This is why for now, Arkansas doesn’t allow online casinos.

But with the recent developments with the states’ four traditional casinos, it leaves the conversation open for the state’s legislators to begin talks for eventually legalizing online casinos.

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