For January 2024, the Arkansas casino license for Pope County is expected to be issued in the coming months. This comes following the revised timeline issued by the Arkansas Racing Commission. The new protocols enable the commission to consider applications and approve bids for the casino gaming opportunities in the state. Once the framework is endorsed by Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders, it will move to the Legislative Council for review. After the Council’s approval, the 30-day bidding period for interested casino developers will commence.
The journey to obtain the casino license for Pope County dates back to 2018, when a referendum permitted a single casino in four Arkansas counties. Two of the licenses were granted for racino racetracks, enabling them to open Las Vegas-style casinos. Another license was approved for a tribe to open the Saracen Casino Resort, while the fourth license, originally intended for Pope County, remains unissued due to legal disputes.
Legal battles between potential casino developers have hampered the progress of issuing the Pope County license. Despite a scandal involving a bias in the grading of bids, the Arkansas Supreme Court’s ruling invalidated the previous pitch by Gulfside Casino Partnership, leading to further litigation. The Cherokee Nation’s bid was also contested and did not meet the requirements of Amendment 100.
The situation for the Pope County casino remains uncertain. However, the Arkansas Racing Commission is expected to publish updated bidding rules in the near future. With this progress, the casino license for Pope County may finally be awarded, bringing an end to the ongoing saga that has lasted for over five years.