Arkansas Approves a Proposal to Legalize Casinos and Sports Betting
A proposal to expand casino gambling at a Hot Springs horse track and at Southland Park Gaming & Racing, and to allow casinos in Pope and Jefferson counties, has been approved for the November ballot in Arkansas.
Secretary of State Mark Martin’s office announced this week that supporters of the proposed constitutional amendment raised more than enough signatures from registered voters to put the proposal on the ballot. Almost 85,000 signatures were required; supports submitted 99,988 valid signatures.
If voters approve the measure, casinos will be allowed at the Southland greyhound track in West Memphis and at Oaklawn, which is a horse track in Hot Springs where the Arkansas Derby is hosted. These tracks offer video poker and other forms of electronic gambling already.
Furthermore, casinos in Jefferson and Pope Counties, both near Little Rock, will be permitted. Sports betting would be legal at all four approved facilities.
Arkansas is one of the few states with no casino, mostly due to a gaming-skeptical public and conservative interest groups. Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson said on Wednesday that he opposes the measure. The Arkansas Family Council, a conservative group against the expansion of gambling in Arkansas, said it will work with religious authorities to fight the amendment.
Driving Arkansas Forward is the organization powering this ballot measure. It’s working to increase support for gambling, saying that new gambling options will raise at least $120 million in yearly tax revenue. The state is in need of an influx of revenue, particularly for roads.
Tribes in neighboring Oklahoma, the Quapaw and Cherokee, have put forward most of the almost $2.2 million raised to fund the measure. These tribes both have casinos on sovereign tribal land in Oklahoma, but have no federally recognized reservations in Arkansas. If the measure passes, they could apply to own and operate casinos in both Jefferson and Pope Counties.
Supporters of the measure say that right now, sports betting and other gambling revenue is leaving Arkansas and going to casinos in neighboring states. The pro-casino group Driving Arkansas Forward, want to pull that money back into Arkansas.
If the Measure Gets Approved
If the measure receives voters’ approval, Arkansas would be the very first state to legalize sports gambling by amending its state constitution. This could be a landmark move to show other states how to legalize, many of which have failed to pass legislation or regulations due to debates on procedure.
Arkansas would be the second state in the southeast to offer legal sports betting, after Mississippi. Both Louisiana and Oklahoma have considered it, but haven’t yet done so. Legalization in Arkansas could be motivational for those states to also move forward.
Regulated Betting in Arkansas
The Arkansas Derby is a huge revenue generator for Oaklawn, and if the measure is passed, sports betting would bring in a lot more revenue. Oaklawn and Southland showed $5 billion in gambling revenue last year alone, without sports betting being offered. This was an increase from $4.81 billion in 2016. That revenue meant millions of dollars every month for state coffers.
Neither Southland nor Oaklawn has announced a public opinion on the ballot measure.
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