A constitutional amendment that would allow casinos in Washington, Miller and Boone counties has been certified by Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, and now backers will begin collecting signatures.
The measure would allow casino gaming as well as wagers on sporting and other events. The casinos would be allowed to operate at all times and sell alcohol at all times. The casinos – one in each county – would be operated by Washington County Gaming, LLC; Miller County Gaming, LLC; and, in Boone County, Arkansas Gaming and Resorts, LLC, or those entities’ successors or assignees.
Harrison is the county seat of Boone County, which borders the Missouri County that is home to Branson. Texarkana is the largest city in Miller County, and Fayetteville and Springdale are the largest cities in Washington County.
The amendment’s ballot question committee, Arkansas Wins in 2016, is composed of five members, according to the group’s filing with the Arkansas Ethics Commission. They are Barry Seller of Sherwood, chairman; Diane Dalton of Stuttgart, treasurer; Don Nicholas of Walnut Ridge, director; Jim Thompson of Blue Eye, Mo., director; and Bob Womack of Branson, director. Little Rock attorney Cal McCastlain filed the amendment with the attorney general’s office.
Dalton is listed on the Arkansas secretary of state’s website as the registered agent for all three business entities, with McCastlain listed as an officer and the incorporator/organizer for Washington County Gaming and Miller County Gaming, and Womack listed as an officer and incorporator/organizer for Arkansas Gaming and Resorts.
Dalton, Womack and Thompson were involved in an unsuccessful attempt to qualify a casino initiative for the ballot in 2012. Gov. Asa Hutchinson, then a private citizen, argued Secretary of State Mark Martin’s case that the measure should not qualify for the ballot. Nicholas was involved in unsuccessful casino attempts in 1998 and 2000, according to the book, “How the South Joined the Gambling Nation” by Michael Nelson and John Lyman Mason.
Robert Coon with Impact Management, which is Arkansas Wins in 2016’s political consultant, said of the committee members, “They’re basically, they’re business people. They’ve worked in a wide variety of industries, financial services, telecommunications, construction, real estate and economic development, and they have kind of come together and view this as a way to improve the revenue for the state from a tax base, from a jobs base, and from an economic development and ancillary industry base.”
The ballot title says that the casinos would be subject to laws enacted by the General Assembly and would be governed by regulations enacted by the Arkansas Gaming Commission, which the amendment would create. The commission would be composed of five commissioners appointed by the governor by July 31, 2017, and who would serve five-year terms. Initial regulations would have to be in effect by March 31, 2018.
Casinos would be required to pay the state 18% of their net and pay 1.5% to the city where they are located and .5% to their local counties.
Coon expressed optimism that the group would be able to collect the 84,859 valid signatures it would need to qualify for the ballot.
“Right now, we have some limited options in the state, and we’ve got some out of state casinos right across our borders that are taking jobs and revenue and tax revenue that we think is better suited to stay inside the state,” he said.