Amid threats of legal action and the promise of legislation to change a constitutional amendment, the Arkansas Racing Commission on Thursday unanimously adopted hundreds of pages of rules to regulate casino gambling in the state.
The 314-page draft of rules, adapted heavily from Nevada’s gambling statutes and regulations, will go before a state legislative committee Monday for review.
“The Racing Commission was pleased everyone had an opportunity to speak today and valued all of the feedback,” said Scott Hardin, spokesman for the state Department of Finance and Administration, which oversees the Racing Commission.
If the regulations pass legislative muster, they will immediately be filed with the secretary of state’s office and become effective 10 days after the filing date. As required by Amendment 100, which authorized the state to license four casinos, the rules must be effective no later than March 14. The constitutional amendment was passed by voters in November.
The commission unanimously approved Rule 2.13, which requires endorsements dictated by Amendment 100 to come only from current officeholders at the time a casino license application is submitted.
Sports-betting regulations were passed without modifications suggested by four athletic directors from state universities or those from a report by a Drake University law professor, which was funded by casino opponents. The only caveat is that betting on amateur sporting events in the state must be done on-site at a licensed casino and cannot be conducted by telephone or the Internet.
“There is a little bit of a safety net by keeping it in-house,” said Alex Lieblong, commission chairman.
The public hearing — which filled most of the seats in the 100-person capacity conference room — heralded the end of the public vetting process that began in January with publishing of the rules for three days and resulted in 194 written comments submitted to the commission.
Amendment 100 allows the state to have four casinos — one each in Pope and Jefferson counties, which now have no legal gambling facilities; one at Oaklawn Racing and Gaming in Hot Springs; and one at Southland Gaming and Racing in West Memphis. The two racetracks now have electronic games of skill and have plans to expand to full casinos.
Nearly all the comments — 95 percent, or 184 letters — were from Pope County residents, business owners and politicians, most objecting to having any casino there.
Rule 2.13, which was edited on Jan. 10 by the commission, essentially tosses out endorsements from Pope County and Russellville officials who, just before leaving office at the end of December, submitted letters of support for a Gulfside Casino Partnership proposal to build a 600-room, $254 million hotel and casino in Russellville.
The amendment itself requires the endorsement of local officials, but does not specify when the letters must be submitted.
Gulfside’s attorney, Casey Castleberry, reiterated to commissioners that a lawsuit was on the horizon if the rule was passed as it stood. The letters from the former officials satisfies the requirements of Amendment 100, Castleberry said.
“Gulfside is disappointed the Racing Commission adopted these rules, which are in direct violation of the Arkansas Constitution and send valuable gaming revenue to Oklahoma instead of funding our state’s highways,” Castleberry said after the meeting.
Castleberry told the commissioners that the rule was changed only after Gulfside obtained endorsements from former Russellville Mayor Randy Horton and former County Judge Jim Ed Gibson.
he change, Castleberry said, directly contradicts a Dec. 26 decision made by the Racing Commission to accept a Nov. 19 letter from Booker T. Clemons, then the county judge in Jefferson County, in support of a proposal from Downstream Development Authority to build a casino there.
Commissioner Bo Hunter countered that the rules were still in the development stage at that time.
“We’re trying to put those rules in place and it seems to me that one of the rules would be who is eligible to submit those letters of support,” Hunter said.