Arkansas poker and gaming lovers have made their voices heard, but now it is time to make their votes count. An amendment to the state constitution has been put on the November General Election ballot that would legalize most casino gambling and authorize the construction of up to three casinos in the state.
The drive to get the measure, labeled as “Issue 5,” on the ballot was initiative of an advocacy group called Arkansas Wins in 2016. The organization penned the amendment and gathered over 100,000 signatures on a petition, easily more than the 84,859 required by the Secretary of State’s office.
“We’re grateful to the 100,977 registered Arkansas voters that joined with our campaign to get this pro-growth, pro-jobs issue on the ballot this November,” said Arkansas Wins in 2016 and Arkansas Winning Initiative Inc. spokesperson Robert Coon in a press release. “This amendment will create thousands of good paying jobs, generate tens of millions of dollars in new tax revenue, increase tourism, and stimulate our state and local economies.”
If the amendment passes in November and becomes law, one casino would be permitted in each of Boone County, Miller County, and Washington County. There is almost certainly a strategy behind the choice of these counties, as one of the goals is to pull residents of neighboring states over to the new Arkansas casinos. Washington County is on the Oklahoma border and is also near Missouri, Boone County borders Missouri and is near Oklahoma, and Miller County borders both Texas and Louisiana.
In June, Arkansas Wins announced that it had into a partnership with Cherokee Nation Entertainment to build a casino in Washington County. Cherokee Nation operates nine Oklahoma casinos, including the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tulsa. One of its properties, Cherokee Casino West Siloam Springs, is on the Oklahoma/Arkansas border and is only a few minutes away from Washington County.
In a press release at the time of the June announcement, Cherokee Nation Businesses CEO Shawn Slaton said:
It’s been an interest of ours for many years to leverage our nearly thirty years’ experience in gaming, hospitality and entertainment into markets outside of Oklahoma. This commercial gaming venture is a natural evolution of our business model that will be good for the state, northwest Arkansas and the Cherokee Nation. We employ thousands of people, and are good community partners, and we look forward to extending that into Arkansas.
The casino amendment would levy an 18 percent tax that would go to the state (the same as the state’s two racinos have), plus a 1.5 percent tax to the city where the casino is built and a 0.5 percent tax to the county. Some electronic “games of skill” such as video poker and video blackjack are currently permitted at the racinos, but this amendment would allow for all forms of casino gambling, like craps, roulette, and poker.
Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson is against the idea of gambling expansion, saying, “I don’t think that is what we need to expand tourism in the Natural State. I think we have some great venues for electronic games of skill in Arkansas now, horse racing. That’s our tradition. That’s our history.”
“Even if you were going to have casino gambling in Arkansas, this is not the means to accomplish it, whereby you have a ballot initiative that designates … three locations, that gives basically a monopoly to an out-of-state company to designate who is going have those operations.”