The Arkansas Supreme Court dismissed a pair of lawsuits last week, clearing the way for a referendum on gambling expansion to appear on the state’s November ballot.
The measure, listed as Issue 4, would amend the Arkansas Constitution to allow for four casino gaming licenses. Ballotpedia details the four licenses as follows:
• To Southland Racing Corporation (Southland) for casino gaming at a casino to be located at or adjacent to Southland’s greyhound track and gaming facility in Crittenden County;
• To Oaklawn Jockey Club, Inc. (“Oaklawn”) to require casino gaming at a casino to be located at or adjacent to Oaklawn’s horse track and gaming facility in Garland County;
• To an applicant to require casino gaming at a casino to be located in Pope County within two miles of Russellville; and
• To an applicant to require casino gaming at a casino to be located in Jefferson County within two miles of Pine Bluff.
As can be seen, if the measure passes, Southland and Oaklawn would automatically get licenses to expand the gambling offerings at their racetracks. The other two licenses would require operators to submit applications and go through a review process.
Lawsuits Challenge Wording, Not Issue
The lawsuits were brought by two groups: Ensuring Arkansas’ Future and Citizens for Local Choice. While they are against casino gambling, they did not attack Issue 4 from that angle, as after all, there is no way a lawsuit would win just based on groups not wanting gambling. Instead, they challenged the measure based on it supposedly being misleading or not being clear.
The “popular name,” essentially a brief summary, of the referendum is as follows:
Issue 4 – An Amendment to Require Four Licenses to be Issued for Casino Gaming at Casinos, One Each in Crittenden (to Southland Racing Corporation), Garland (to Oaklawn Jockey Club, Inc.), Pope, and Jefferson Counties
We would post the entire measure, oddly called the “ballot title,” but it is 710 words long, so we’ll let you Google it, instead. I’m not getting paid for word count.
In its lawsuit, Ensuring Arkansas’ Future said, “The petition is insufficient because the ballot title fails to convey an intelligible idea of the scope and impact of the proposed Amendment, is materially misleading to the voters, and omits material information that is essential for a fair understanding of the Amendment.”
Both rulings were nearly unanimous, with Justice Jo Hart the lone dissenting voice on one of the lawsuits.
The leading group in support of Issue 4 is Driving Arkansas Forward, which is mostly funded by Native American Tribes. Nate Steel, the group’s legal counsel said of the ruling:
These decisions clear the way for Arkansas voters to add almost $6 billion to our state’s economy and create 6,000 new jobs through a fair, measured and merit-based expansion of casino gaming. We are grateful the Supreme Court upheld the Attorney General’s certification that Issue 4 is clear and understandable to voters. We are confident Arkansans will vote to keep casino entertainment dollars in our state when they cast their ballots on Nov. 6.
A poll conducted in early September by Talk Business & Politics and Hendrix College (sample size 1,701), showed that 48 percent of respondents oppose the measure and 41 percent supported it. 11 percent said they didn’t know one way or the other. Margin of error is +/- 2.4 percent.