Casino initiative qualifies for Arkansas ballot, Gov. Hutchinson opposes

by Steve Brawner (BRAWNERSTEVE@MAC.COM) 168 views 

An initiative to legalize three casinos will be on the ballot November 8 after Secretary of State Mark Martin’s office Thursday (Sept. 1) certified that its backers had collected the required number of signatures.

In a letter to Cal McCastlain of Dover, Dixon, Horne, PLLC, Director of Elections Leslie Bellamy said Arkansas Wins in 2016, the group supporting the casinos, had collected 100,977 signatures. The effort was required to collect 84,859.

Arkansas Wins in 2016 had submitted 63,725 valid signatures in July, barely reaching the threshold necessary to qualify for a 30-day “cure period” to gather more signatures.

The measure would embed in the Arkansas Constitution the three entities allowed to operate the casinos: Washington County Gaming, LLC; Miller County Gaming, LLC; and, in Boone County, Arkansas Gaming and Resorts, LLC, or those entities’ successors or assignees.

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 casinos would be required to pay the state 18% of their net and would pay 1.5% to the city where they are located and .5% to their local counties.

Arkansas Wins in 2016 announced in June that Cherokee Nation Entertainment would manage the Washington County facility. It operates nine casino properties in Oklahoma.

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. Robert Coon with Arkansas Wins in 2016 said the campaign will focus on job, tax revenue and tourism opportunities.

“We think that those are compelling messages and are going to deliver those messages to voters in traditional and nontraditional activities,” he said.

He said the campaign had engaged in polling and microtargeting efforts to craft its message.

Previous efforts to legalize casinos have failed. Coon said voters have shown through their support of a statewide lottery that they would be open to casinos.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson has expressed opposition to the proposal in the past and repeated that opposition Thursday while speaking with reporters, saying it “gives basically a monopoly to an out-of-state company. He said he would not actively engage in a campaign against the casinos, as he has opposing two voter initiatives that would legalize medical marijuana.

Jerry Cox with the Family Council will be among the opponents. He said that casino gambling hasn’t helped average incomes in most places where they exist and that the proposal “allows a select group of businessmen to basically write themselves into the Arkansas Constitution.” He said casinos hurt the poor and lead to increases in bankruptcies and crime.

“It’s just a bad bet for these communities, and it’s a bad bet for the state of Arkansas,” he said.

Cox said his group will work with its grassroots network of several thousand households and with about 1,000 churches. He said his group will not join a coalition of opponents but has “fellow travelers” such as other faith groups, Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, and Southland Gaming and Racing in West Memphis. His group will not work formally with Oaklawn and Southland. He said his group does not plan legal action.