Mississippi-based operator, Gulfside Casino Partnership LLC, on Thursday announced plans for a three-phase $250-million resort casino in Pope County despite opposition from residents of the Arkansas agricultural based community.

According to local newspaper the Arkansas Times

The company responsible for the Island View Casino Resort in Gulfport has submitted a letter of support from Pope County Judge Jim Ed Gibson to the Arkansas Racing Commission for its casino gaming application. However, what looks to be the beginning of a lengthy legal debate has begun as casino opponents have filed a lawsuit in an attempt to block the outgoing Judge’s [Gibson] support letter for the proposed resort casino in Russellville.

Incoming judge:

Elected as county judge in 1998, Gibson will be replaced by Ben Cross, who won the Pope County primary election in May and will be sworn in as county judge on Jan. 1, 2019. Cross reportedly opposes a casino in the area.

Amendment 100:

Early last month, Issue 4, now, Amendment 100 of the Arkansas Constitution, was approved by the state’s voters allowing local leaders to choose via a letter of support applicants for a casino license in their respective community. The amendment allows West Memphis’ Southland Park Gaming and Racing and Oaklawn Racing and Gaming in the city of Hot Springs to transform into full-scale casinos. Both Arkansas facilities had previously offered electronic skill games under a 2005 state law but will now be able to enlarge their portfolios to include sportsbetting and table games such as poker and blackjack.

Amendment 100 additionally provides for the Arkansas Racing Commission to authorize one casino each for the more rural Pope County and Jefferson County. According to the amendment, the commission is required to put rules into effect for the state’s new casino gaming structure by March 14.

Opponents seek vote:

However, there is the matter of an ordinance approved by Pope County voters requiring a vote before a casino proposal is approved by an elected official in the county. The ordinance may prove to be unconstitutional as no provision exists in the amendment for a local option election.

Gibson reportedly said that he doesn’t think a local vote matters. He added, “We had a constitutional amendment and that’s going to have to be handled in court,” according to the Arkansas Times.

Meanwhile, Gibson Law Firm attorney, Anna Stiritz, said…

“The idea that all of Arkansas would be voting on this and that people who didn’t have to live with the consequences could vote to do this to Pope County just rubbed us wrong. The people said very clearly ‘we want to decide this issue for ourselves,’” according to THV11.com KTVH.

got to be a county decision

“People were saying this should be a local decision,” Stiritz, who is also a volunteer with the group opposed to a casino in Pope County, said, “There are people who want a casino, who don’t want a casino and who don’t care, but there is a wide majority of people who believe this has got to be a county decision.”

Proponents pointing out that the fact that amendment doesn’t call for any local votes reportedly prompted Judge Gibson’s decision to announce the deal with Gulfside Casino Partnership. He looks to the fact that Gulfside’s plans are for a major resort experience to sway the opinions of those opposed to the casino.

“There was a certain type of casino that they didn’t want to see come to Pope County,” Gibson said. “This group here, it’s more or less a resort than it is a casino.”

River Valley Casino:

The proposed River Valley Casino has a website up and would reportedly feature a 600-room hotel, including 40 suites, a 6,500 sq.ft. spa and fitness center and meeting and convention space. Dining options would include a 300-seat buffet, a fine dining steakhouse, a seafood restaurant, 24-hour cafe, and a coffee and pastry shop. Other property amenities include retail/shopping, a pool bar and deck,  and a performance center/showroom. Gambling would feature 90,000 sq. ft. of gaming space with 2,100 slot machines and 100 table games, alongside a show bar and casino bar, sports bar and a casino lounge/club. There would also be ample parking with a surface parking lot as well as a parking garage.

An attorney for Gulfside, Casey Castleberry, said…

“The county judge has seen what we have in mind. We have been in discussions with him since March, and we think that when people see that this is not what they expect, they will change their minds and come around to the good that can be done,” according to THV11.

Cross reportedly said that he would not support the casino.

Castleberry reportedly said the Russellville casino could be up and running by fall 2020 if the regulatory process goes off without a hitch.