LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The Arkansas Racing Commission is set to draft rules for operating the state's first fully developed casinos after voters approved a measure to expand gambling in the state last month.
The commission must approve the new regulations by March 14, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports.
The deadline comes just months after a new amendment legalized casinos in four Arkansas counties, including horse and dog tracks that already offer electronic gambling.
Both Southland Gaming and Racing in West Memphis and Oaklawn Racing and Gaming in Hot Springs have electronic gambling, but the state's Amendment 100 allows them to expand into full-fledged casinos.
Voter support letters are a mandate to apply for a Racing Commission license, according to the new legislation. A public comment hearing would be held once the commission approves a draft of the operating regulations. The commission finalizes the rules and then sends them to state lawmakers for final authorization.
Commissioners have also discussed adopting emergency casino-application rules that would allow prospective casinos to begin construction sooner.
Officials in Jefferson County have already written letters of support for Downstream Development Authority of the Quapaw Tribe to build the proposed Saracen Casino Resort in Pine Bluff.
Alex Gray, an attorney for Downstream Development Authority, told the commission that expediting the application process could allow his group to break ground on construction early next year. Gray said once the rules are approved, casinos can start generating tax revenue for the state and local communities.
However, several commissioners have cautioned against moving too fast, noting that the public is watching to ensure the state's casino expansion has a smooth rollout.
Alex Lieblong, chairman of the Arkansas Racing Commission, recommended the commission review the application rules before assembling again later this month.
Lieblong said the group could vote on whether to use the expedited approval process at that meeting.
"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."