Arkansas Racing Commission Approves Land-Based Casino Rules

Saracen Casino Resort

A departing Jefferson County judge approved Saracen Casino Resort.

The Arkansas Racing Commission approved two new rules for casino gambling this past week: one involving local approval and another involving the licensing of casino employees. The commission’s vote is a non-binding, tenative approval for the two measures.

Neither new regulation appears controversial, so both rules appear likely to be adopted.

The first rule settles a question about the proposed the Jefferson County casino. To receive a casino license, the district judge has to give approval, but questions arose over the timing of the approval.

Department County Judge Booker Clemons sent a letter on November 14, several days after the election, giving his support to Saracen Casino Resort in Pine Bluff. He is leaving in January and will be replaced by Jefferson County Sheriff Gerald Robinson.

Jefferson County Casino Approval

Judge Clemons wrote a letter on Nov. 19 giving his approval for the Saracen Casino, but residents wondered whether a departing judge’s approval was enough. The Racing Commission approved a measure which would make Nov. 14 the cutoff date, so Judge Clemons’ approval is enough. (For his part, Gerald Robinson also said he would approve.)

Still, the decision could have an effect on future decisions, if the measure is approved. Media present said the measure was approved without comment from the commissioners or local residents in attendance, signaling the new rule is uncontroversial.

Casino Worker Certification Vote

The second vote involved the licensing and qualifications for casino employees in the four proposed new Arkansas casinos. The Racing Commission was charged with creating the regulatory framework for the new casinos, so the vote was expected.

Once again, the casino licensing vote passed unaninmously and without comment from the commissioners and those in attendance.

Arkansas Casino Vote: Amendment 4

Amendment 4 in the 2018 midterm election called for four new casinos: two on the site of existing racetrack casinos in Garland and Crittenden Counties and two brand new casinos in Jefferson and Pope Counties. The Garland County casino expansion is set for Oaklawn Racetrack, which is owned by the Oaklawn Jockey Club, Inc. The company has planned four years for such an expansion.

The Crittenden County casino will be placed at the The Southland Racing Corporation’s greyhound track, Southland Racing. Once again, the dog track has been hoping to expand its slots parlor into a main casino for years.

Arkansas Casino Tax Revenues

Amendment 4 stipulated that the first $150 million of revenues would be taxed at a 13% rate. Anything over $150 million would be taxed at a 20% rate. 55% of the tax revenues goes to the State of Arkansas General Revenue Fund. 19.5% goes to the city in which the casino is located, while 8% goes to the home county.

The remaining 17.5% goes to the Arkansas Racing Commission, who will deposit the cash in the Arkansas Racing Commission Purse and Awards Fund. The Racing Commission’s fund goes toward purses for live horse racing at Oaklawn Park and greyhound racing at Southland Races.

Trouble for Pope County Casino?

The Pope County casino might be in trouble already. When the voting statistics became known, it was clear that Pope County voters rejected Amendment 4. That might not be a major obstacle, but the voters approved another measure which could complicate matters for local developers.

Northwest Arkansas Online reported that Pope County voters approved a “local initiated measure that requires local officials to get approval from voters before supporting a casino proposal.”

If a developer wants to build a casino in Pope County, it is going to have to convince voters in the county to support the measure. The tax revenue and jobs created should speak for itself, but economic concerns do not always convince residents to support a casino in their neighborhood.

The Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma is known to support a Pope County casino, so it likely will push for a decision from local voters in the coming years. The Pope County casino licensing process will be open to many applicants, so others might be interested in pushing a casino approval vote.