A Pulaski County judge has ruled that Gulfside Casino is a qualified applicant and its application with the state Racing Commission must be considered.
Judge Tim Fox ruled that the state’s decision to bar Gulfside’s application because the signatures of local elected officials did not include current officeholders was incorrect.
Gulfside had the endorsement of two outgoing elected officials that seemed to meet the criteria outlined in Amendment 100, which stated that letters of support were required “from the county judge or a resolution from the county quorum court in the county where the casino would be located and, if the proposed casino is to be located within a city, a letter of support from the mayor of that city.”
The Mississippi-based casino announced plans at the end of 2018 to build a $254 million complex in Pope County.
Gulfside Casino Partnership previously submitted a letter to the Arkansas Racing Commission from Pope County Judge Jim Ed Gibson, who left office Dec. 31, 2018, in support of its application for casino gaming. Gulfside said it planned to build the resort casino in a single phase, if approved by state regulators, by mid-2020. Former Russellville Mayor Randy Horton also sent a letter of support prior to leaving office at the end of 2018.
However, the Racing Commission adopted a rule later that said the letters of support needed to be from current officeholders.
Fox ruled that the state’s additional requirement that the local officeholders must currently hold office was unconstitutional.
“The court has determined the highlighted and underlined portion of Casino Gaming Rule 2.13(5)(b) imposes an additional qualification, sometimes referred to as a ‘negative’ qualification, beyond the plain and unambiguous language of Amendment 100,” Fox wrote in his ruling.
UPDATE: Casey Castleberry, attorney for Gulfside Casino Partnership, released the following statement regarding Judge Fox’s ruling:
“As Judge Fox’s ruling confirmed, we were the only applicant for Pope County that timely complied with every requirement of Amendment 100. The Arkansas Racing Commission should follow the precedent set with Saracen and grant us the casino license without further delay.”
Terry Green, co-owner of Gulfside Casino Partnership, released the following statement:
“For more than three decades, we have been strong community partners to the Gulf region by generously supporting schools, first responders, nonprofits and economic development efforts.
“We’re ready to immediately break ground on the $254 million River Valley Casino Resort, which will support 1,500 permanent jobs, $29 million in annual gaming tax revenue — 50% more than other proposals — and an estimated payroll of more than $60 million.”