Sponsor-backed study: Casinos’ impact would be $1.2 billion; opponents dispute

by Steve Brawner ([email protected]) 157 views 

Passage of an amendment legalizing three casinos would have a total statewide annual impact of $1.2 billion, create 3,200 direct jobs and create 3,432 direct construction jobs, according to a study released Tuesday (Oct. 11) by sponsors of the amendment.

The study was commissioned and funded by Arkansas Wins in 2016, the group sponsoring Issue 5, which would legalize one casino each in Washington, Boone and Miller counties.

One group of opponents disputed the study as tainted, while another said its own review of gambling home Tunica County, Miss., and neighboring Lee County, Ark., found little difference in poverty rates between the two.

The study by economics professors Drs. Kyle Dean and Russell Evans of Economic Impact Group, said casino workers compensated at an average of $42,000 annually would have yearly wages and benefits of $134.4 million, while construction workers would have wages and benefits of $148.5 million. The study found the casinos and ancillary facilities would generate $768 million in annual revenues and would lead to $487 million in additional local spending, creating a total annual statewide impact of $1.2 billion, with 7,953 jobs paying $331 million in wages and benefits.

Capital expenditures would be $600 million, with $450 million of that spent in the state. Those expenditures would generate an additional $257 million in additional local spending, meaning the amendment would lead to a total of $707 million in local construction expenditures. Counting this additional spending plus the casinos, the construction phase would support 5,084 jobs paying $222 million in wages and benefits.

The casinos would be required to pay the state 18% of their net and would pay 1.5% to the cities where they are located and .5% to their local counties. The study estimated the casinos would generate $122 million in yearly gaming tax revenues for state and local governments, the study said.

“Based on our findings, we believe the passage of Issue 5 will result in significant Arkansas investment, creating or supporting thousands of jobs while providing a new source of tax revenue for the state and local communities,” Dean said in a press release.

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. Those operations would be owned by two Missouri businessmen, Bob Womack of Branson and Jim Thompson of Blue Eye. The constitutional protection would be granted to their successors and assignees.

Chuck Lange, chairman of Protect Arkansas Values – Stop Casinos Now, said in a statement that the study is “political propaganda.” Lange pointed to the fact that Evans’ biography says he and his staff regularly perform research for the Cherokee Nation, which operates nine casino properties and will manage the casino in Washington County.

“It is clear that these out-of-state opportunists saw the overwhelming number of elected officials from the governor, lieutenant governor, and almost two thirds of the Legislature, along with business leaders and Arkansas voters opposing this issue and decided they needed a distraction,” said Lange.

The amendment is the subject of a lawsuit led by Lange that is to be decided by the Arkansas Supreme Court. A report released last week by former judge John Jennings, the special master appointed by the Court, said backers failed to collect enough signatures to qualify for an initial “cure period” giving them time to collect more signatures to qualify for the ballot. If the Court agrees, votes would not be counted for the measure.