Might as well keep going with the mid-term election news. In Arkansas on Tuesday, voters approved an amendment which would allow casino gambling in the state. Issue 4, as it was called, passed by a margin of 54.07 to 45.93 percent with 87 percent of the state’s precincts reporting.
Oaklawn Racing and Gaming in Hot Springs and Southland Gaming and Racing in West Memphis are automatically issued casino gambling licenses as part of the constitutional amendment. There have already been allowed to offer electronic skill games, but this now permits them to build out full casinos. The amendment also permits a casino to be build in Pope County and Jefferson County, but operators will have to go through an application process first.
Interestingly, the residents of Pope County voted against the measure.
Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson reluctantly accepted the results of the vote, saying, “I did not support this initiative, and I continue to have great concern over the immediate and negative impact on the state’s budget. But the people have spoken, and I respect their will. Time will tell as to what this means for our state, and it remains to be seen as to whether the communities affected will consent to the gambling initiative.”
Governor Hutchinson thinks legalized casino gambling will have a negative impact on the state budget because the State Department of Finance and Administration projected that there would actually be a $36 million decline in tax revenue in 2020 and 2021 (fiscal year begins July 1st). The reason for this is because the both Oaklawn and Southland will be taxed at a lower rate than before. The Department also doesn’t expect the two other casinos to open until 2022. Supporters of Issue 4 refute these assessments, saying the casinos would generate more tax revenue than before.
The amendment also allows for sports betting.
Lawsuit Threatened Ballot Measure
There was some controversy over Issue 4, as two groups, Ensuring Arkansas’ Future and Citizens for Local Choice, filed lawsuits to try to stop it from being put on this week’s ballot. The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled against them about a month ago, so the measure was able to be added.
The groups did not argue that casino gambling was bad, though they are against gambling, but rather that the wording of measure was misleading and confusing. The entire measure is too long to post here, but the “popular title” was “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.”
“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,” argued Ensuring Arkansas’ Future.
The ruling against one of the lawsuits was unanimous, while Justice Jo Hart was the lone dissenter in the other case.