New application period for final Arkansas casino license coming this summer
New application period for final Arkansas casino license coming this summer
Wild Casino

Arkansas will again accept applications as early as May to open the state’s fourth and final casino, pending legislative approval. 

The state Racing Commission approved a set of rules Monday to govern a new 30-day application period for the fraught Pope County casino license. 

Those rules must be approved by the Legislature — likely next month — setting up an application window that could open in May but certainly before summer’s end, Deputy Attorney General Doralee Chandler told commissioners. 

This will be the commission’s third go at issuing a casino in Pope County since Arkansans voted to allow four full-fledged casinos in the state. The courts have voided two previous versions of licenses issued to Gulfside Casino Partnership and most recently Cherokee Nation Business/Legends Resort & Casino.

Those rulings led to a reset on the process that has seen five years of bureaucratic and legal battles waged by dozens of lobbyists and attorneys for hopeful casino operators and Pope County residents opposed to any casino in their community.

“We’ve been through enough litigation to last us a lifetime,” Chairman Alex Lieblong said at a recent meeting.

If lawmakers sign off on the new application rules in April, the rules will go into effect after a 10-day period once being filed with the Arkansas Secretary of State’s office. 

Next, the commission will develop a scoring rubric, then open the application window. 

Arkansans voted to legalize casino gambling through a 2018 ballot initiative. That ratified Amendment 100 to the Arkansas Constitution, permitting four casinos. 

The first two casinos were written into the amendment: the existing racetracks in West Memphis (Southland) and Hot Springs (Oaklawn). 

The third license was issued quickly and without controversy in Jefferson County due to local support for the Quapaw Nation, which opened Saracen Casino Resort in Pine Bluff. 

The Pope County license has been unique with local efforts opposing the casino altogether and multiple casino operators interested in the license.

The group affiliated with the Cherokee Nation is still a favorite to get the last license because it is the only group with the requisite letter of support from elected officials in Pope County, but other groups, like Gulfside, have remained committed to presenting pitches of their own to the commission and Pope County.