On Sept. 25, the Russellville City Council in Arkansas approved a timeframe for casino operators to once again submit their proposals for a Pope County casino license.
The 21-page request for proposals allows interested casino operators to submit their application by next Wednesday by noon, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Little Rock reported.
The process to choose an operator for the would-be Pope County casino has been a murky one.
Five operators, including Gulfside Casino Partnership and Warner Gaming of Hard Rock Casino fame, previously applied for a license. All five were denied last June by the Arkansas Racing Commission, and Gulfside has since sued the commission.
That same month, the commission reopened the process if any operators came forward with letters of endorsement by elected officials. In August, much to the surprise of many, the Pope County Quorum Court — which consists of 13 justices of the peace, functioning like a county commission — endorsed the Cherokee Nation Businesses’ proposal for Legends Resort and Casino.
The decision to endorse the Cherokee proposal is controversial because the Legends Resort would be built outside of Russellville, excluding the city from sharing in a $38.8 million economic development fee, negotiated by Pope County judge Ben Cross and paid for by the Cherokee Nation Businesses.
Because of this, the Russellville City Council formed the Community Gaming Evaluation Committee on Sept. 5.
However, further controversy surrounded the matter as Russellville Mayor Richard Harris and some Committee members were condemned for suggesting using nondisclosure agreements to keep monetary details of the casino proposals private, according to the Democrat-Gazette. In addition, there was also discussion of possibly holding private meetings with casino operators.
Warner Gaming and others encouraged Mayor Harris to get the City Council to conduct its own open and transparent vetting process in choosing a casino operator.
The Council recently approved a resolution that forbids the use of nondisclosure agreements, as well as casino applicants from directly communicating with city officials over the matter. The Russellville website will share documents, announcements, and other important information with the public as they receive it.
Chief Executive Officer and President of Warner Gaming Bill Warner spoke on the new resolution and process, the Democrat-Gazette documented.
“We’re impressed by the evaluation system and very pleased to be participating in a fair and transparent process,” he said.
Bill Warner confirmed that a proposal for Hard Rock Arkansas will be submitted by Wednesday. Cross remarked that neither he nor the Quorum Court will endorse any other casino applicant besides Cherokee Nation Businesses.
The Courier in Russellville reported that the Gaming Committee plans to make a selection at 6 p.m. on Oct. 14. They will then forward their casino operator selection to the City Council for approval during its Oct. 17 meeting.