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Outgoing Arkansas mayor backs casino plan on last day

The outgoing mayor of Russellville chose his last day in office to express support for a Mississippi company’s proposal to build a $254 million, 600-room hotel and casino in Pope County.

Russellville Mayor Randy Horton, who was defeated by newcomer Richard Harris in a December runoff, submitted a letter to the Arkansas Racing Commission on Monday expressing support for the plan despite opposition from some local residents and a lawsuit over another official’s similar support.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported that Jim Ed Gibson, the county judge for Pope County, has also expressed support for the Gulfside Casino Partnership. Monday also was Gibson’s last day in office. A lawsuit was filed against Gibson last week.

Horton said in the letter that Gulfside “best exemplifies the ideal for an operator for Pope County.”

“The community support, reputation, employee satisfaction, commitment to security, quality of properties and history of supporting and giving back to the surrounding community combined with verifiable financial stability and legal gambling operations are all factors in this evaluation,” Horton wrote.

Harris, who campaigned on an anti-casino platform, said he’s “very discouraged” by Horton’s actions.

“I do not believe a casino is good for our community,” Harris said. “Based on the information I’ve received and looking at surrounding states, I’m convinced it would do more detriment to our community than benefit.”

In November, state voters approved a constitutional amendment authorizing casino gambling in Jefferson and Pope counties as well as alongside existing gambling facilities at the racetracks in Hot Springs and West Memphis. The amendment requires that any casino license proposals for Pope and Jefferson counties have the support of either the county judge or the quorum court.

In the same election, Pope County voters also approved a countywide ordinance prohibiting either the county judge or the Quorum Court from drafting a letter in support of a proposed casino without first getting approval from voters in a countywide election. No such countywide election has taken place.

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