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The steam rising high above Pope County these days may not limited in origin to the cooling towers of Arkansas Nuclear One.

Some of it may be emerging from the ears of residents who don't care for the idea of a casino operating there.

What’s the point?

A state process for awarding casino licenses should include respect for Pope County residents’ views.

Arkansas voters' decision in November to legalize four casino gambling operations in the state combined with Pope County voters' decision in the same election to put up barriers to one in their back yard is generating quite the reaction in Russellville and its surroundings. It's not that the idea of a casino has become entirely radioactive, but the ol' political Geiger counter on the wall seems to be clicking at a high rate.

A quick rundown: Arkansas voters said yes to four casinos. Two will be at racing tracks in Hot Springs and West Memphis, where people ostensibly are already used to the presence of betting opportunities. A third would be in or near Jefferson County's Pine Bluff, where so far it seems people view a gaming operation as naturally as one expects to see stripes on a zebra; and the fourth, according to the new constitutional amendment, would be in Russellville or nearby.

Pope County voters, however, didn't take kindly to folks outside their community -- even outside their state -- trying to dictate. The amendment required a letter of support from a county judge or the quorum court in Jefferson or Pope counties before the state will consider a casino application. If a casino is proposed within a city, the application must also include a letter of support from the mayor. Voters in Pope County adopted their own measure in November, though: Before the county judge or quorum court can offer support, the question must be referred to local voters.

On the state casino question, a majority of Pope County voters said no, reflecting an anti-casino lean.

The most offensive wrinkle: The Pope County judge, 20-year incumbent Jim Ed Gibson, and Russellville's mayor, Randy Horton, were both booted from office in November's election. After the election but while they remained in power, both men wrote letters to the state giving their support to a casino application from a Mississippi-based company called Gulfside Casino Partnership.

This, fellow Arkansans, is the kind of greed-based political shams one can expect when casinos are part of the mix. Hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake, so it's hardly a surprise there's serious gamesmanship going on.

The good news from the Arkansas Racing Commission, charged with overseeing the casino application process, is their proposed rules apparently will require letters of support from officeholders at the time a casino application is submitted. That, if adopted, would negate the shenanigans by lame-duck officials like Gibson and Horton.

To earn the votes of Arkansans for the constitutional amendment, its authors clearly wanted to provide a sense that local attitudes about casinos would be, if not controlling, at least respected. In Pope County particularly, the anti-casino sentiment shouldn't be ignored or be allowed to be swept aside by one or two rejected political leaders.

A casino unwanted by a majority of local residents, it seems, wouldn't really be a very good bet.

Commentary on 01/07/2019

Print Headline: Going all in

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