RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. — A group trying to keep casinos out of Pope County has put all their cards on the table, or more specifically their signatures to put a constitutional amendment on the Arkansas ballot.
Arkansas voters already approved a casino for Pope County in 2018, but that amendment involved Crittenden, Garland, and Jefferson Counties. If this amendment meets the criteria, it would only be for Pope County which four years ago voted against a casino on their turf.
The Fair Play for Arkansas committee unloaded 103,096 signatures in hopes to change the 2018 Arkansas Constitutional amendment.
A spokesman for the committee, Hans Stiritz, said of the previous amendment, “This isn’t something that we asked for, and yet it’s been forced upon us.”
In 2018, it was a close race with 54% of Arkansas voters authorizing four counties to be given one casino license. Three of four affected counties were for it, but Pope County voted against it. In fact, their 60% against and 40% for was the greatest margin of difference in the state.
“This is really wrong where the entire state makes a decision for what happens in one community, and this is what we’re trying to correct here,” Stiritz insisted.
But the opposing group, Arkansas Tourism Alliance, backed by the current casino license holder, Legends Resort & Casino and Cherokee Nation Businesses (CNB), does not think the effort is playing aboveboard.
“My clients have already won the license to operate, so it’s a little sour grapes,” stated David Stokes, attorney for Pope County casino license holder.
They’ve called Fair Play for Arkansas “a front for those who would rather see billions of dollars go to Oklahoma and not Arkansas.” In April 2022, they also funded a poll that indicated 54% of Pope County voters now want a casino.
According to Stokes, “There’s the fear of the unknown, and so you don’t know exactly what a casino is, but now that you see all these other examples of how good it is for the community, how good it is for the tourism, how many people have jobs now.”
Regardless of what the people of Pope County think, it would once again be the entire state’s voters that decide if a casino can continue its dealings or if it has to fold.
As of now, CNB has not broken ground on its casino & resort, but it has secured 140 acres for the development. Learn more about the project here.
Only 89,151 valid signatures are required for the advocacy group to bring their proposed amendment to the state board of election commissioners which will later decide whether it makes the ballot.
Arkansas Tourism Alliance sent a statement saying:
“Considering the historical validity rate of petitions in the state of Arkansas, as well as the population of registered voters, indications are strong that based on what Fair Play submitted today they will not meet the minimum numbers required to initiate the petitions. Furthermore, a mountain of evidence exists to challenge significant improprieties pertaining to Fair Play’s signature-gathering efforts, including gross misrepresentation by canvassers of the ballot petition’s purpose, employment of persons with criminal backgrounds, and improper notarization of petitions. We remain optimistic and will continue the fight to keep the constitutional amendment voters approved in 2018 intact, keeping billions of dollars in tax revenue and thousands of good-paying jobs in the state of Arkansas.”
– David Couch, Attorney for Cherokee Nation Businesses
Fair Play for Arkansas also provided a statement saying:
“We’re extremely grateful for the support from voters across the state who signed our ballot petitions, allowing us to submit the signatures required to qualify for the ballot and move onto a statewide campaign. The citizens of Pope County are asking to be treated like our neighbors in 74 other counties: we don’t want a casino mandated in our community. Now the voters of Arkansas will have the chance to support local control and end this corrupt process in Pope County once and for all.”
-Hans Stiritz, Fair Play for Arkansas