The outgoing mayor of the Arkansas city of Russellville has thrown his support behind a $250m resort casino in Pope County, despite fierce opposition to the contrary, reports the Arkansas Democrat Gazette.
Randy Horton, who was defeated in his re-election bid by the newly sworn in Richard Harris last month, submitted a letter to the Arkansas Racing Commission backing the Gulfside Casino Partnership proposal.
Gulfside, which operates the Island View Casino Resort in Gulfport, Mississippi, also saw Jim Ed Gibson, the county judge for Pope County who has also since left his post, express support for its bid for one of the state’s first licenses for a full-fledged casino.
In his letter Horton stressed that the bid “best exemplifies the ideal for an operator for Pope County,” stressing that “their proposal of a resort style, family friendly development that is aesthetically compatible with the surrounding area, also represent the goals that I would have applied had the development been located within the city”.
Harris, however, ran his campaign with an anti-casino stance, stating that he is “very discouraged” by the actions of Horton in backing the 600-room hotel casino, which Gulfside hopes to open in 2020 if granted a licence.
“I do not believe a casino is good for our community,” stated Harris. “Based on the information I’ve received and looking at surrounding states, I’m convinced it would do more detriment to our community than benefit.”
Towards the end of last year state voters approved a constitutional amendment authorising casino gambling in Jefferson and Pope counties, as well as alongside existing gambling facilities at Oaklawn Racing and Gaming in Hot Springs and Southland Gaming and Racing in West Memphis.
The amendment requires that any casino license proposals for Pope and Jefferson counties have the support of either the county judge or the quorum court.
In the same election, Pope County voters also approved a countywide ordinance prohibiting either the county judge or the Quorum Court from drafting a letter in support of a proposed casino, without first getting approval from voters in a countywide election. No such countywide election has taken place.
Horton’s letter in full can be found below:
For the last several months, as details became available about the potential responsibilities that mayors of communities affected by the recently approved Amendment 4 might have to deal with, I have done considerable research.
It was my intention to become informed in various areas of operations, employee benefits community involvement, security, financing and other matters that different operators might practice in preparation for the possibility that it might become required of me to write a letter of support for a potential operator or operators.
My goal was to be able to elect to support only the best operator to receive the Pope County license if an operator chose to locate within the city limits of Russellville, Arkansas.
During this due diligence process a number of interested operators did make introductory contact with my office. These contacts were also vetted as a way of establishing what a positive influence that a particular operator might contribute in the way of benefits to the community.
While no operator has proposed a development to be sited within the city limits of Russellville, it is nonetheless my opinion that Gulfside Casino Partnership best exemplifies the ideal for an operator for Pope County.
The community support, reputation, employee satisfaction, commitment to security, quality of properties and history of supporting and giving back to the surrounding community combined with verifiable financial stability and legal gaming operations are all factors in this evaluation. Their proposal of a resort style, family friendly development that is aesthetically compatible with the surrounding area also represent the goals that I would have applied had the development been located within the city.