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Once upon a time, the question of whether Arkansas would ever have casinos looked like a sure bet: No way, no how.

Resistance, however, proved futile. Arkansas voters demonstrated a shift in attitudes in 2018 when they backed a constitutional amendment that legally authorizes establishment of four -- certainly no more -- casinos in the state. Two licenses to operate automatically went to race tracks in Hot Springs and West Memphis. A third went to Pine Bluff, where the Quapaw Tribe has been the unchallenged suitor for the rights to build a flashy casino/hotel.

In Pope County, the fourth site authorized for casino gambling, the journey toward card games, chips and slot machines is proving to be a long and winding road. Think the curvy Highway 23 Pig Trail rather than straight-shot Interstate 49.

A bunch of folks there didn't want -- don't want -- a casino. But it's coming anyway, we'd bet. It says so right there in the Arkansas Constitution now. The people have spoken and it's not just up to the people of Polk County. The local folks, though, have sure made it complicated.

County leaders favored a casino operated by the Cherokee Nation. Other gambling outfits encouraged the city of Russellville to make its own selection. Allegations of secret meetings among Pope County leaders, promises of millions in community "investments" by casino companies and promises of lawsuits have all left the situation about as clear as the Arkansas River's water.

The Arkansas Racing Commission still has a decision to make. Its window for Pope County applications will close next month.

State Rep. Joe Cloud of Russellville the other day wrote to the commission, urging it to apply "patience and forbearance in dealing with the conundrum in which Pope County finds itself."

In a bit of common sense not always common from a political figure, Cloud asked the commission to wait until the courts have had a chance to rule on a multitude of issues before picking a winning application.

"There's a lot of division right now between the county and the city," Cloud said. "It's terrible."

Sure, gambling has been tearing families apart for eons. Why wouldn't it have the same effect on communities?

Cloud rests his request on the fact Pope County voters passed their own local ordinance creating for themselves a kind of veto power over the constitutional amendment's inclusion of Pope County as site of a casino. That's probably a losing proposition -- a local ordinance can hardly limit the Constitution.

But waiting for some legal clarity? The commission could show some wisdom if its members choose to deal with facts, not allegations.

Commentary on 10/15/2019

Print Headline: Wait for it ...

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