A group seeking to build a hotel and casino in central Arkansas has released plans for the $254 million project, but a lawsuit has been filed over whether a judge’s support for the project was improper. Meanwhile, the casino planned for Pine Bluff has seen no organized opposition.
Pope County’s outgoing Judge Jim Ed Gibson expressed support in a letter for the Gulfside Casino Partnership’s plan for a full-fledged casino in Russellville.
Gibson’s last day in office is Tuesday, when he will be succeeded by Ben Cross, who opposes a casino in the area. Another casino opponent has filed a lawsuit seeking to have Gibson’s letter declared invalid.
Arkansas voters approved an amendment in November that legalizes gambling in four counties, but also requires the support of the county judge or Quorum Court.
The Arkansas Racing Commission has given tentative approval to two new regulations dealing with casino gambling after voters agreed to legalize them last month.
The commission must develop rules for the licensing and operation of up to four new casinos, which can be located at existing racetracks in Hot Springs and West Memphis, and at new sites in Jefferson and Pope counties.
The Pope and Jefferson county properties must receive letters of support from local leaders. The commission gave preliminary approval last week to a rule that says those letters of support must be dated after Nov. 14.
Another rule adopted by the commission deals with the licensing of employees who will work at casinos. The commission next meets Jan. 10 for a public comment period on the rules.
Chief John Berrey of the Quapaw Tribe is the chairman of Downstream Development Authority, which has been selected by leaders in Jefferson County and Pine Bluff to operate a casino here.
Berrey said he wants to start moving dirt immediately after receiving the gaming license. He said his plan now is to be proactive in getting people signed up and trained. He said he has met with Southeast Arkansas College, the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and Go Forward Pine Bluff regularly to coordinate job and vendor fairs to assist in having people readily available to work.
Berrey said they have begun interviewing general contractors and architects, and in the package that is being sent out to the prospects there are some conditions and demands, one of which is they must buy and hire local.
“There are going to be some trades and some activity that probably exceeds some of the skillsets and the abilities, including the bonding and stuff like that for local guys, but we really want to integrate who is in the community that has the resources, abilities, the skills and the want-to to be a part of the construction from the get-go.”