Industry Reports

Arkansas Supreme Court to Decide in Casino Expansion Dispute

The effort for casino expansion in the State of Arkansas is becoming even more entangled after Attorney General Leslie Rutledge rejected a proposed amendment for the fourth time this year. The group campaigning for commercial casinos to be allowed in the state responded with a lawsuit against Rutledge and now the Arkansas Supreme Court is set to decide whether the proposal would eventually go to the November ballot.

Supporters of casino expansion in Arkansas said Tuesday they were suing the state Attorney General for stopping the proposed measure in its infancy. Driving Arkansas Forward, the group who is pushing for the amendment, wants to sidestep the Attorney General office and is asking the state Supreme Court to take matters into its hands. According to state law, any amendment should receive approval by the Attorney General before its advocates can proceed with collecting signatures. But the proposal was rejected by AG Rutledge on the grounds of ambiguous content. In fact, on Monday, she rejected it for the fourth time this year.

The proposal would not immediately legalize commercial casinos in Arkansas. The campaign group wants the decision to be left to voters on the November ballot but before that, it needs to start campaigning and to collect approximately 85,000 signatures. This is a required step before the amendment can be added to the ballot. Without approval from Rutledge, however, Driving Arkansas Forward has no chance to prepare for November. On Tuesday, the group filed a lawsuit, hoping that the Supreme Court could review their proposal and the reasons for rejection cited by the Attorney General.

She refused to certify the popular name and ballot title of the proposed amendment, claiming they are ambiguous and incomplete. In an opinion to the campaigners’ attorney Alex Gray, she writes that the ballot title should be changed so that it can summarize and describe more fully the proposal. While the popular name is a brief description of the amendment, the ballot title includes lengthy and detailed information. If cleared, both would appear on the November ballot. According to Rutledge, some of the statements and descriptions in the measure are misleading and should be clarified before voters are asked to make their decision.

Decades-Long Battle for Arkansas Casinos

The pro-casino group says that a share of the tax revenues generated from gambling in the state would fund highway projects, hence the name Driving Arkansas Forward. According to them, Arkansas would receive 12 per cent of the gross gaming revenue (GGR) of casinos, which would be enough to improve the infrastructure. According to the current law, commercial casinos are not allowed. Instead, the so-called “electronic games of skill” can exist at racetracks.

This is the Oaklawn Racing and Gaming in Hot Springs and the Southland Park Gaming and Racing in West Memphis. The group’s proposal, which was officially filed by the law firm Steel, Wright, Gray and Hutchinson, would allow these two venues to offer more options beyond this type of games. In addition, the state government would be able to issue up to four casino licences. One commercial casino would be allowed for each of the Jefferson and Pope counties.

The latest amendment denial by the current Attorney General is just one of the many efforts throughout the years to bring more casinos to the Natural State. Last week, Rutledge rejected the ballot language for another constitutional amendment proposed by Arkansas Wins in 2018 Inc. If approved by November, it would ask voters to authorize four casinos in the following counties – Benton, Boone, Miller and Pulaski. Last year, she stopped another casino ballot proposal, saying it was overly long and complicated. It was filed by Hot Springs resident Barry Emigh who has multiple recommendations regarding gambling expansion in the past two decades. So far, his efforts have all been unsuccessful.