Arkansas Casino Legalization Proposal Approved For Ballot

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A casino legalization proposal that two Native American tribes have each contributed more than $1 million to support was approved Wednesday to appear on the Arkansas ballot in November.

Secretary of State Mark Martin’s office said supporters of the proposed constitutional amendment had submitted 99,988 valid signatures from registered voters, more than the nearly 85,000 needed to qualify for the ballot. The group behind the measure, Driving Arkansas Forward, turned in more than 138,000 signatures.

The proposal would allow casino gambling at Oaklawn, a Hot Springs horse track, and Southland, a greyhound track in West Memphis. The tracks currently offer video poker and other forms of electronic gambling. The proposal would also allow casinos in Pope and Jefferson counties. Supporters of the measure have promoted it as a way to keep revenue in Arkansas that right now is going to casinos in adjoining states.

“It’s time to keep that money where we live to support our economy, improve our infrastructure and create new jobs,” Nate Steel, counsel for Driving Arkansas Forward, said in a statement.

The pro-casino group has raised more than $2.2 million, nearly all of which has come from the Quapaw and Cherokee tribes in neighboring Oklahoma. Oaklawn and Southland have not publicly said whether they support the initiative.

Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson told reporters Wednesday he opposed the measure. The casino campaign drew criticism last week from the state’s Highway Commission, which said TV ads in favor of the measure misleadingly depicted it as a road funding proposal. Driving Arkansas Forward defended the ads, saying they only said the casino revenue could go toward roads and highways.

A conservative group that has opposed past efforts to expand gambling in Arkansas said it expected to work with religious leaders to fight the measure, and left open the possibility the proposal could also face a legal challenge.

“I don’t believe there’s any grassroots groundswell whatsoever in Arkansas for more casino gambling,” said Jerry Cox, head of the Arkansas Family Council.