Arkansas Supreme Court Allows Gambling Expansion Measure to Stay on November Ballot

By in Industry on

As the November mid-term elections approach in the United States, all of the focus is, naturally, on whether we will see a “Blue Wave” or if Republicans will maintain control of both the House and Senate (not to mention many Governorships and state legislatures). One thing people often forget, though, is that most state and local ballots also have issues that citizens can vote upon. One such issue in Arkansas is casino gambling. Issue 4, a measure which would amend the state Constitution to authorize four casino licenses, is on the Arkansas ballot, thanks to the state Supreme Court tossing out two lawsuits which sought to keep people from being able to vote on the measure at all.

Issue 4, if passed, would immediately have licenses issued to Southland Racing Corporation and Oaklawn Jockey Club so that the two operators could expand their racetracks to full-fledged casinos. Two other licenses would be authorized, pending an application process.

There were two lawsuits filed, both very similar, brought by Ensuring Arkansas’ Future and Citizens for Local Choice, both of which are anti-gambling groups. Their lawsuits to not argue against gambling, but rather challenge the wording of the measure.

“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,” said Ensuring Arkansas’ Future in its filing.

The complete title of Issue 4 is over 700 words (“title” is a dumb term for it), but here is the “popular name” of the measure:

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

Two of the main problems the plaintiffs had with Issue 4 is that it is made to look like four Arkansas casino licenses are guaranteed to be issued, when it is really just two that are guaranteed. The state could review applications for the other two and decided not to grant additional licenses. The plaintiffs were also concerned with what would happen to licenses if the license holders sell their businesses.

The Arkansas Supreme Court dismissed both lawsuits, with only one justice dissenting in one of the cases.

Thus, Issue 4 will stay on the November ballot in Arkansas, allowing residents of the state to vote on whether they approve of gambling expansion at the state’s racetracks. If the vote reflects recent polls, it is bad news for gambling proponents. Talk Business & Politics and Hendrix College conducted a poll of 1,701 people in September and found that just 41 percent of respondents supported Issue 4, while 48 percent opposed it. The remainder said they did not know how they felt about it.

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