Casino Backers Confident In Signature Totals Ahead Of Deadline

Jul 6, 2016

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A group petitioning to allow casinos to operate in three Arkansas counties has enough signatures to meet Friday’s deadline for proposed constitutional amendments, according to a spokesman. 

Arkansas Wins in 2016 is one of several groups hoping to place proposals on the November ballot. The group’s initiative would allow casinos to operate in Washington, Boone and Miller counties.

Backers of proposed constitutional amendments need to hand in about 84,859 signatures to the Arkansas Secretary of State’s office by Friday. If signatures are invalidated, groups can be given more time to meet the threshold. 

Robert Coon, a partner at the Impact Management Group, is the Arkansas Wins spokesman. He says the group is confident in their signature tallies and is prepared to gather more if necessary.  

“Should there be signatures underneath [the 84,859 threshold] once the validity checkpoint takes place, we’ll be prepared to move forward with a cure period if necessary,” Coon says.

Under the proposed amendment, the three casinos would have to remit to the state 18% of net gaming receipts, meaning the net revenue after payouts to gamblers. A half percent of the net gaming receipt revenue would go to the county in which the casino is located and one and a half percent would go to each city.

That formula is also applied to the only other gaming sites in Arkansas: Oaklawn in Hot Springs and Southland in West Memphis. Coon says the combined revenue from Oaklawn and Southland to the state has been about $40 million annually. He says $600,000- 800,000 from the two casinos have gone to the counties each year.

Coon says it was a measured decision to try to establish gaming centers in three border counties located in separate geographical regions away from Oaklawn in central Arkansas and Southland in eastern Arkansas.

“We looked at what the state already has as far as gaming inside the state... There’s certainly a limit on how much you can over saturate one market. So part of the thinking was let’s look at areas of the state where we wouldn’t be over saturating,” he says.

According to filings with the Arkansas Ethics Commission, Arkansas Wins has been funded primarily by Arkansas Gaming and Resorts, LLC of Branson, Missouri. In May, the corporation contributed $25,500 to the campaign. According to a statement of organization filed in April with the Ethics Commission, the committee for Arkansas Wins said that Arkansas Gaming and Resorts would be the intended operator of the Boone County casino, if the amendment were to pass.

Last month, Arkansas Wins announced an agreement with Cherokee Nation Enterprises, the business arm of the Cherokee Nation, to operate the Washington County casino. Washington County borders the Cherokee Nation’s territory in eastern Oklahoma, where the nation currently operates nine casinos.

Backers of other ballot initiatives are also gathering signatures ahead of the July 8 deadline. Two would allow medical marijuana to be sold in the state; one would legalize all types of marijuana, recreational or medical; and one would allow the legislature to set limits on the amount of money awarded in medical lawsuits. Backers of a proposal to strengthen term limits for Arkansas legislators have suspended their campaign.

This post was edited for clarity on Thursday, July 7th.