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issue-5-logoUPDATE 10/13/16: The Arkansas Supreme Court struck this measure from the November ballot (even though it will still appear on the ballot, no votes will be counted).

Issue 5 of 2016 is an initiated Constitutional amendment that, if passed by Arkansas voters, would

♦  Specify that casino gambling be allowed by law in only 3 specific counties (Boone, Miller, and Washington) for only 3 specifically named companies (Arkansas Gaming & Resorts, Miller County Gaming, and Washington County Gaming)

♦  Create an Arkansas Gaming Commission

♦  Authorize an 18% state tax as well as specific county and city taxes on gaming receipts (while exempting gaming receipts from local gross receipts taxes)

♦  Allow the shipping of gambling devices via federal law into the specifically named counties

♦  Exempt those specifically named casinos from local zoning laws pertaining to time of operation (allows casinos to operate “any day for any portion of the day”) and serving alcohol (allows selling or complimentary alcoholic beverages in casinos, otherwise subject to Arkansas liquor laws)

Background

Arkansas currently allows electronic gambling only at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs (horse racing) and in West Memphis at the Southland Greyhound Park (dog racing). In 2008, voters approved a state lottery to fund education scholarships.

Two ballot groups back Issue 5: Arkansas Wins and Arkansas Winning Initiative. Sponsors got the measure approved by Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge on June 1, 2016 and the signature-gathering process began. The groups hired canvassers and had until July 8, 2016 to submit 84,859 valid signatures (had to include at least 5% of the previous gubernatorial votes in at least 15 of the state’s counties).

On July 8, 2016, organizers submitted 92,000 signatures and the Secretary of State verified 63,725, which allowed the group the legal 30-day extension to continue obtaining the necessary signatures. 50,000 more signatures were submitted on August 15, 2016 and the measure was certified for the ballot with 100,977 signatures on September 1.

Robert Coon of Beebe, of the Arkansas Wins in support of the measure, said

Our intent, as we have stated since the outset of this campaign, has been for the casinos authorized by this amendment to be operated by well-established, credible firms in the gaming industry.

This amendment will create thousands of good paying jobs, generate tens of millions of dollars in new tax revenue, increase tourism, and stimulate our state and local economies… If voters want to see casino gaming in Arkansas, and want jobs, tourism and tax revenues to return to Arkansas from our surrounding states, then, they should vote for Issue 5. Our amendment would bring competition to an already restrictive gaming industry, giving Arkansans more gaming and entertainment choices.

Top Donor To Run At Least One Casino

The two top donors to one of the measure’s sponsors (Arkansas Winning Initiative) are Cherokee Nation Businesses and Arkansas Gaming and Resorts: Cherokee Nation donated $1,000,000 in June 2016, while Arkansas Gaming and Resorts donated $40,000. Cherokee Nation has since donated another $400,000 in August. Earlier in 2016, the measure’s other sponsor (Arkansas Wins) publicized an arrangement it made with Cherokee Nation Entertainment to run the Washington County casino if voters approve the measure, but the group apparently has no other deals in play for the other 2 locations specified in the constitutional amendment.

Opposition

Jerry Cox of the Family Council Action Committee, in opposition, says Issue 5 will take away local voters’ rights to decide whether they want expanded gambling in their communities:

Even if every voter in these cities [listed in the bill] opposes the casinos, they could still be built if the amendment passes in the statewide vote this November.

Governor Asa Hutchinson also opposes the measure, saying he was concerned about writing a private company into the Arkansas Constitution.

The Committee to Protect Arkansas’ Values/Stop Casinos Now filed a lawsuit with Chuck Lange and Bill Walmsley on September 7 against Issue 5 asking the state Supreme Court to remove it from the ballot.

Some info sourced from the UofA Division of Agriculture’s 2016 Ballot Issues Guide, the state repository of Arkansas Supreme Court rulings, Ballotpedia, and the Arkansas Legislature website.