Warner Gaming has teamed up with Hard Rock International to announce plans to build a casino resort complex in Pope County, Arkansas. However, the casino group faces a series of legal hurdles before any ground is broken. The Hard Rock casino proposal comes after a new amendment to Arkansas State law last November, where voters approved gambling in the state.
The Proposed Casino Resort
Hard Rock International plans to open a casino resort in Arkansas River Valley. The facilities will include a best-in-class hotel, casual and upscale dining options, indoor and outdoor entertainment venues, conference facilities, and other amenities.
Warner Gaming has managed the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas since 2011, and also opened a hotel-casino property in Sioux City, Iowa. The Hard Rock brand is globally recognized, with a total of 185 Hard Rock Cafes, 27 hotels, and 11 casinos, spread over 75 countries.
Although Arkansas has passed an amendment to allow statewide gambling, each casino project must pass through the legal process of each local community within the state. In addition, Hard Rock is only one of several companies expressing interest in bidding for the Arkansas gaming action.
In addition to Hard Rock’s interest, several other companies have expressed desires to enter the casino bidding war. The permit application process is open from May 1-31, 2019, and applications are expected from the Gulfside Casino Partnership from Mississippi, the Choctaw tribe, and the Cherokee tribe. The Choctaws run a casino near Fort Smith, and are expected to apply for the Pope County gaming license in a political move to edge out competition.
Even though gambling is now legal in Arkansas, casino companies must submit bids to local governments. Pope County requires a local election before a county judge can offer letters of support to casino license applicants.
A majority of Pope County residents voted against the casino amendment last November, and have voiced resistance to the idea of building casinos on their turf.
Anna Stiritz of the Sanford Law Firm summed up the Pope County attitude regarding casinos. “So far our county in every avenue that’s been offered for it to vote has expressed that they do not want a casino here.”
Pope County officials initially expressed approval for the casino project shortly before leaving office. After the departure of the mayor of Russellville and the county judge, the town adopted a new law which requires local government approval on all new casino proposals.
Growing interest in Russellville as the Pope County center for gaming giants has already earned it the ironic nickname ‘RussVegas.’ Locals describe Russellville as the exact opposite of Las Vegas, a town so quiet and simple that ‘the sidewalks roll up at night.’
While the idea of their sleepy town becoming an Arkansas Sin City troubles many, Hard Rock holds out hope that local sentiment will change. Warner recently issued the following optimistic statement on the matter:
“Arkansans have decided to keep the jobs and tax revenues associated with casino gaming within the state, and we are excited for the opportunity to be a part of that,” said Warner. “In the coming weeks, we will continue our discussions with Pope County residents so that we can get a feel for what the community would like to see in a project like this. Our past experience has taught us that community input and involvement is critical to our success.”
Warner Gaming will file its application for a gaming license in May, but it is uncertain whether or not the casino giant will prevail. In the meantime, Warner is preparing a detailed proposal for their casino resort project, and hopes that the positive economic effects of casinos will eventually sway votes their way.
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