Anti-Casino Group Funded By Oaklawn, Southland To Fight 'Out-Of-State Opportunists’

Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs.

The group that opposes a voter-initiated act to authorize three casinos in Arkansas has received $109,500 in campaign donations from Oaklawn Racing and Gaming and Southland Park Gaming and Racing.

Oaklawn has donated $59,500 while Delaware North, the parent company of Southland, has donated $50,000 to the Committee to Protect Arkansas’ Values/Stop Casinos Now, according to the Committee’s Arkansas Ethics Commission filing report. Oaklawn and Southland both operate casinos.

In a joint statement, Troy Keeping, president and general manager of Southland Park Gaming and Racing, and Eric Jackson, Oaklawn general manager, said, “We are opposed for the same reason Governor Hutchinson and others are opposed. It is a terrible and dishonest amendment that will be bad for our state. Arkansas will have no say over who gets the licenses, who operates the licenses or even what kind of gambling they can offer, since the type of gaming is defined by other states in the amendment. This is an open invitation to corruption and unimaginable forms of gambling. Worse, the people who live in communities where casinos will be located are being denied the right to vote on what they want in their own communities. It is not surprising that no state has ever voted for something like this.”

Issue 5 would allow casino gaming in Washington, Miller and Boone Counties by embedding in the Arkansas Constitution the three entities allowed to operate the casinos: Washington County Gaming, LLC; Miller County Gaming, LLC; and, in Boone County, Arkansas Gaming and Resorts, LLC, or those entities’ successors or assignees. The entities are owned by Jim Thompson of Blue Eye, Mo., and Bob Womack of Branson.

“We know we have a fight on our hands to explain to the voters of Arkansas that two out of state opportunists are trying to rig our Constitution for their own personal profit,” said Chuck Lange, the Committee’s chairman, in the same press release as the joint statement. “We are excited to have received a little over $100,000 in financial resources from longtime Arkansas institutions – Oaklawn and Southland – to combat this deceptive effort to permanently change our constitution.”

The casinos would be governed by regulations enacted by the Arkansas Gaming Commission, which the amendment would create. The casinos would be required to pay the state 18% of their net and would pay 1.5% to the city where they are located and 0.5% to their local counties.

The group supporting the casino effort, Arkansas Wins in 2016, had raised a little more than $1.047 million through its funding wing, Arkansas Winning Initiative, as of July 31, and spent $1.003 million. Cherokee Nation Businesses has donated a little more than $1 million of that amount. Arkansas Wins in 2016 announced in June that Cherokee Nation Entertainment will manage the Washington County facility. It operates nine casino properties in Oklahoma.

Robert Coon with Arkansas Wins in 2016 said of its opponents, “This front group continues to make wild and outlandish accusations that are simply not supported by facts. What they cannot dispute, however, is that Issue 5 will have a significant economic impact on the state of Arkansas by creating jobs, increasing tourism, and bringing tax revenue back from surrounding states. Our proposal will be good for Arkansas’ economy and we believe that voters will agree on November 8th.”

On Monday, the Committee to Protect Arkansas’ Values/Stop Casinos Now released a list of 40 legislators it said are opposed to the amendment. It released two more names today: Rep. David Meeks, R-Greenbrier; and Rep. Trevor Drown, R-Dover.

The Committee has filed suit in the Arkansas Supreme Court to strike the amendment from the ballot and have no votes counted. The suit says the amendment violates federal law and is unconstitutional, says the ballot title is misleading, and finds fault with the amendment’s signature collection process.