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The Arkansas Racing Commission plans, by the end of the month, to draft and begin the process for approving rules for operating Arkansas' first full-fledged casinos.

The commission's attorney, Byron Freeland, told the seven-member panel that it must approve the regulations by March 14 -- 120 days after the effective date of the Arkansas Constitution's Amendment 100, which expands casino gambling in Arkansas.

Commissioners also discussed approving the rules for applying for one of the four casino licenses on an emergency basis, which would allow prospective casinos to begin construction sooner. The commission plans to vote on that measure at a meeting later this month.

As for the operating rules, Freeland said he planned to draft the rules using Nevada's casino guidelines as a model.

"Nevada is really considered to be the industry gold standard," Freeland said.

The rules must be approved by legislative review, the governor and the state Department of Finance and Administration.

Amendment 100, approved by Arkansans in the Nov. 6 election, allows for casinos in Jefferson and Pope counties and at Southland Gaming & Racing in West Memphis and Oaklawn Racing & Gaming in Hot Springs. The latter two already have gambling operations, but Amendment 100 would allow those facilities to expand into full-fledged casinos.

Officials in Jefferson County have already written letters of support for Downstream Development Authority -- an arm of the Quapaw Nation -- to build the proposed Saracen Casino Resort in Pine Bluff. Under the amendment, the support letters are a prerequisite for applying to the Racing Commission for a license.

Officials in Pope County have been opposed to a casino opening there and they would need voter support to give it approval under a county ordinance also approved on the Nov. 6 ballot. Southland and Oaklawn are exempt from the support-letter requirement.

Once the Racing Commission approves a draft of the casino operating rules, they will be published and a public comment hearing will be held. The commission will then vote to approve a finalized version of the rules, and the rules will be sent to the Legislature for approval.

The commission, potentially, could adopt the casino-application rules on an emergency basis, which would speed the approval process by loosening the public notice and comment requirements.

Alex Gray, an attorney for Downstream Development Authority, told the commission that speeding up the application process could allow his group to break ground on construction early next year. Downstream hopes to open the casino in early 2020.

Gray said that the sooner rules can be approved, the sooner casinos will begin generating tax revenue for the state and localities.

Several commissioners cautioned against moving too fast, saying that the public eye was on them to ensure a smooth rollout of the state's casino expansion.

Chairman Alex Lieblong of Conway suggested the commission review the application rules before convening again later this month. At that meeting, Lieblong said the group could vote on whether to use the expedited approval process.

"We are not whatsoever trying to be a roadblock," Lieblong said. "We're just trying to make sure that it's done in the fairest possible way for Arkansas."

Metro on 12/06/2018

Print Headline: Casino operating rules 1st on Arkansas Racing Commission's to-do list

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