Attempts to Bring a Casino to Pope County, Arkansas Continue to Hit a Wall

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It’s been a couple of years since residents in Arkansas decided they were fine with new casinos coming to the state. They voted on a ballot measure that authorized an amendment to the Arkansas Constitution that paved the way for new venues to begin popping up in certain areas, but one of those areas has proven to be much more problematic than expected. Pope County is still without a casino, three years later, as one legal fight after another has caused the project to remain in limbo. Casino opponents are trying a different route to defeat the measure, hoping for an amendment to the amendment that would kill the debate once and for all.

If at First You Don’t Succeed

It was the approval of a ballot entry in 2018 that allowed the Arkansas Constitution to be amended so that casinos could be added to cities like Pine Bluff, West Memphis and Hot Springs. It also included Pope County as one of the target destinations, but bringing a casino to the city has proven to be anything but easy. Legal fights over how a casino operator was chosen have surfaced and gambling opponents have tried to block the measure at every turn. Not even the idea of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones getting involved has been enough to overcome the objections of gambling opponents.

Fair Play for Arkansas, a name whose irony shouldn’t be ignored, now wants to try to get an entry on next year’s ballot that would bring the entire debate over a casino in Pope County to a grinding halt. The group is going to try to gather enough signatures to have the measure put before a public vote and, if they’re successful, the state Constitution would once again be amended to exclude a Pope County casino. The measure would be retroactive to 2018, the year voters agreed to allow the new gambling properties.

Gambling Opponents Try a Different Route

The new effort is being led, in part, by Jim Knight, a local businessman who tried to prevent the first casino approval in 2018. At the time, as part of The Citizens for Local Choice, Knight and the others in the group tried to argue that the ballot entry was confusing, despite specifically mentioning where the casinos would be allowed, but a judge dismissed the lawsuit, ruling that Local Choice hadn’t made its case strongly enough. Another effort attempted last year failed, as well, but the group continues to keep Arkansas and its casino market mired in controversy.

The anti-casino group wants the state’s constitution to be reworded to indicate that only three casinos were allowed – minus the one in Pope County – even though voters approved the original measure in 2018. Perhaps it feels that the third time’s the charm; however, there that’s a bet most people shouldn’t take. The casinos are adding much-needed revenue to state and local governments and there’s little reason for the momentum to be halted now. If state voters approved the ballot entry in 2018 that allowed the casino in Pope County, this attempt to reverse that approval seems more like an effort for a small group to get its way and less like an attempt to allow democracy to prevail.

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