AG Rutledge rejects casinos for highway funding proposal a third time

by Roby Brock ([email protected]) 594 views 

The third time wasn’t the charm for supporters of a casino amendment proposal hoping to clear a legal hurdle with Attorney General Leslie Rutledge.

The Arkansas AG rejected the latest proposal from the Driving Arkansas Forward group’s 2018 effort to allow for four casinos in Arkansas with a bulk of the proceeds being directed to highway funding.

The Arkansas Casino Gaming Amendment of 2018 would authorize two new casinos – one in Jefferson County and one in Pope County – while enhancing the gaming operations at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs and Southland Park Gaming and Racing in West Memphis. The bulk of tax revenues from casino gaming under the proposed constitutional amendment would go for highway needs statewide, as well as in the counties and cities where the casinos are located.

In a letter on Thursday (March 29) to attorney Alex Gray, Rutledge said she was rejecting the latest submission – the group’s third draft – due to “ambiguities.”

Rutledge said there could be confusion for voters by the language that outlines how casino licensing will be administered and regulated. The proposed amendment gives authority to the Arkansas Racing Commission and creates an Office of Casino Gaming.

“This suggests that both bodies have some regulatory authority with respect to the licensing of franchise holders. But their precise, respective authority is unclear,” Rutledge opined.

She also cited confusion about how sales and use tax would be collected for the casinos, complications arising from Oaklawn’s and Southland’s respective horse and greyhound racing status, and questions about the General Assembly’s ability to alter parts of the amendment by a two-thirds vote.

“The ambiguities noted above are not necessarily all the ambiguities contained in your proposal, but they (together with the other stated problems) are sufficiently serious to require me to reject your popular name and ballot title. I am unable to substitute language in a popular name or ballot title for your measure due to these ambiguities. Further, additional ambiguities may come to light on review of any revisions of your proposal,” she wrote.

Alex Gray, an attorney representing Driving Arkansas Forward, offered this statement to Talk Business & Politics.

“We are evaluating the AG’s comments and we will resubmit soon. This back and forth with the AG’s office is an important part of the process and we all have the same goal of making sure that the ballot title is as clear as possible,” he said.

A copy of the rejection letter can be read here.