Arkansas Supreme Court Asked To Strike Casino Measure From Ballot
A lawsuit against Secretary of State Mark Martin has been lodged by a committee against a recently proposed constitutional amendment to authorize casino licenses in Arkansas. The Russellville-based committee, which is against the proposed constitutional amendment, wants the Arkansas Supreme Court to strike the measure from the upcoming general election ballot on November 6th.
Plaintiffs named are committee members, Bill Wheeler of Crittenden County, Bobby Gene Smith of Jefferson County, Kenneth Carney of Garland County, and Judith Stiritz of Pope County in the lawsuit that was filed on Monday by attorney Scott Trotter of Little Rock.
The lawsuit contends that the popular name for the constitutional amendment is misleading; further, the amendment is unfair, unintelligible, and not impartial in three different places. The lawsuit goes on to say that the title that will show on the ballot is materially misleading to voters and doesn’t include the information needed for voters to grasp a fair understanding of the proposal.
The lawsuit was filed just five days after Secretary of State Mark Martin’s office decided that the Driving Arkansas Forward and Arkansas Job Coalition’s proposed constitutional amendment qualified for the ballot.
The Proposal: Issue 4
The proposal would allow the state Racing Commission to give out casino licenses to four casinos, two of which would be for permission to expand their current gambling operations which would, among others, include sports betting. Issue 4 would allow the Racing Commission of Arkansas to issue casino licenses to: “an applicant in Jefferson County within 2 miles of Pine Bluff; an applicant in Pope County within 2 miles of Russellville; a franchise holder in Crittenden County, which is now Southland Racing Corp., at or adjacent to Southland Gaming and Racing in West Memphis; and a franchise holder in Garland County, which is now Oaklawn Jockey Club, at or adjacent to Oaklawn Racing and Gaming in Hot Springs.”
The proposal also lays out the tax rate for each of the casinos at 13 percent on the first $150,000,000 of net casino gaming receipts and a rate of 20 percent on net casino gaming receipts exceeding $150,000,001. The measure states no other taxes could be imposed on casinos, and the tax revenue collected would be distributed as such:
- 55 percent to the State of Arkansas General Revenue Fund;
- 5 percent to the city in which each casino is located (or the county in which the casino is located if the casino is not within a city);
- 5 percent to the Arkansas Racing Commission to be used for live horse racing and greyhound racing by Oaklawn and Southland; and
- 8 percent to the county in which the casino is located.
Driving Arkansas Forward
In an article by the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, counsel for Driving Arkansas Forward, Nate Steel, said the lawsuit was an: “effort to circumvent our state’s initiative process and the will of 100,000 Arkansans who signed petitions to get this issue on the ballot.”
He went on to say:
“This lawsuit is not only meritless, but disingenuous, as evidenced by the fact that the attorney for this group, Mr. Trotter, contacted our campaign on multiple occasions during the certification process in support of the amendment. We believe the Attorney General was diligent and correct in reviewing this ballot title, and we have no doubt that it will withstand this legal challenge.”
A second lawsuit was handed into the Supreme Court of Arkansas late Tuesday afternoon and was filed early Wednesday morning by Citizens for Local Choice. The lawsuit asks to either have the state’s Supreme Court remove Issue 4 from the general election ballot or to bar Secretary of State Mark Martin from certifying or counting any votes towards the proposed constitutional amendment.
This lawsuit agrees with the first and says the ballot title is misleading and leaves out the information needed for voters to have a fair understanding of the impact and scope of the casino proposal. Examples include that the measure, which would effectively overturn the present constitutional ban on monopolies and perpetuities, would give exclusive and perpetual licenses for alcohol sales and casino gambling over which governments and local voters would lose their liberty to approve.
Response to Second Lawsuit
In a written response to the filing, Nate Steel, the counsel for the Driving Arkansas Forward and Arkansas Jobs Coalition committees said:
“At no time have they ever claimed that it is unclear until now. They clearly understood the amendment, and in fact reacted to it by proposing local ordinances and resolutions in response. So it is clear that this isn’t about the language of the amendment – it is about trying to deprive the voters of a chance to vote on an issue that 100,000 Arkansas (including those from Pope County) petitioned to have on the ballot.”
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