The continuing saga over the Pope County casino situation took another twist last week following an Arkansas court ruling confirming the state’s gambling commission broke its own rules.
According to a report in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, a Pulaski County judge granted a temporary restraining order which blocks the state Racing Commission from issuing a casino license in Pope County. The decision was part of a lawsuit filed by Citizens for a Better Pope County, an anti-casino group opposing a license in the region.
Jerry Malone, the attorney representing the group, said they're pleased with the judge’s ruling.
"The judge seems to have conducted a very thorough review of the pleadings, casino rules and the requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act and came to what we believe was a very solid decision," he said. "The Racing Commission has no authority to engage in a second application window."
As part of the ruling, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen said the organizing body broke its own rules by opening a second window for long disputed license applications.
"The rules of the Racing Commission do not hint, let alone provide, that the Commission was authorized to open a second casino license application period after it received and rejected applications submitted during an initial time for filing casino license applications," the judge said.
This follows months of controversy surrounding the decision to grant a casino license in Pope County. Alongside public opposition, the state’s Racing Commission has also faced lawsuits from disgruntled bidders and controversy over the bidding process.
Even involvement from Dallas Cowboys owner and former Arkansas Razorbacks football star Jerry Jones has not impacted the casino proposal's long-running delays.
In total, five operators originally applied for the license. All five were rejected in June of last year. That same month, the commission reopened the bidding process on the provision that operators holding a letter of endorsement from an elected official could be reconsidered. Shortly after in August, a decision was taken to endorse a proposal from the Cherokee Nation Businesses.
"At this point in the process, Pope County is content to allow the judicial process to proceed as necessary,” Ben Cross, a county judge of Pope County who has endorsed the Cherokee Nations bid, said according to the Democrat-Gazette. "From my standpoint, all the parameters placed upon the county by Amendment 100 have been met in accordance with the language as written, so therefore, the legal and procedural issues raised thus far are now in the hands of the state.”
The temporary restraining order won by Citizens for a Better Pope County was set for 14 days. In the meantime, all eyes will turn towards the next meeting of the Racing Commission, set for Jan. 16.