Casinos Amendment Gets On Ballot, Opponents Decry LLC's Written Into Constitution

Sep 1, 2016

Credit Talk Business & Politics

Arkansas voters will get a chance to decide in November whether or not to allow three casinos to operate in three border counties. Secretary of State Mark Martin’s office on Thursday validated the over 84,000 signatures needed to qualify the constitutional amendment for the ballot.

Robert Coon, the spokesperson for the ballot committee Arkansas Wins 2016, says the group is ready to shift from signature gathering to voter turnout.

“I think you’ll see pretty soon that we’ll be able to communicate via normal channels and in some new creative ways about the benefits this proposal would bring. It could bring jobs and tax revenue back to the state from surrounding states and tourism,” said Coon.

Some critics of the measure, like Arkansas Business Editor Gwen Mortiz, say it’s unprecedented to write private companies, in the form of three LLCs, into the state constitution.

Arkansas Wins 2016 spokesperson Robert Coon contends the proposal is rooted – in some degree - to the state’s history with gaming.

“We’re basically taking a similar tact to what’s currently on the books with existing gaming facilities that we have today. There are specific constitutional permissions for pari-mutuel gaming which is what we have in Hot Springs and West Memphis. You have essentially, specific entities that are enabled to participate in electronic games of skill based on that provision,” said Coon. “In concept what we’re doing is not all that different. I think tactically it’s different. But ultimately it’s up to voters if that’s what they want to sign off on.”

If approved by voters, the governor would appoint a five-member commission to regulate gaming establishments. An 18-percent tax on gambling receipts would be collected by the state.

The group Protect Arkansas Values is opposed to the amendment. A press release mostly harped on a loss of local control for three border counties.

We are opposing this amendment because it is a bad deal for Arkansas. No state has ever allowed something this outrageous,” said Chuck Lange, former Arkansas Sheriffs Association president and Chairman of Protect Arkansas’ Values - Stop Casinos Now.

“We are concerned that there is no accountability in this amendment and no protections for the people of Arkansas. There are no mechanisms for local governments to object to the placement of casinos in their community. There are no real regulatory restrictions for these casinos, which would allow them to subvert local law and do whatever they please,” continued Lange.

The conservative Christian Family Council Action Committee also opposes the casinos measure. Its director Jerry Cox pointed to constitutional, regulatory, and economic concerns rather than cultural and moralistic arguments.

“This amendment allows a group of Missouri businessmen to write themselves and their gambling operation into the Arkansas Constitution.”

Cox said, “This amendment creates a monopoly allowing out-of-state businessmen to build casinos in Texarkana, Fayetteville, and Harrison. That’s bad enough, but the fact that no one else would be allowed to do the same creates a monopoly of the worst sort. Even if every voter in these cities opposes the casinos, they could still be built if the amendment passes in the statewide vote this November.”

Cox said the amendment lets casinos operate without enough accountability. “The way the amendment is written the Arkansas Legislature won’t be able to regulate them. It specifically states that any kind of gambling that is legal in Nevada and in several other states must be allowed at these casinos. In 10 or 20 years, there is not telling what kind of gambling they will be doing in Nevada and other states, but whatever it is, it will be allowed right here in Arkansas.”

Cox noted that casino gambling has not been an economic boon elsewhere. “Tunica County, Mississippi, has nine casinos. Just across the Mississippi River in Lee County, Arkansas, there are no casinos. The poverty levels in these two counties is almost identical. It’s the same with casinos in Oklahoma. At best their economy is stagnant. On the downside, communities with casinos see higher rates of bankruptcy, higher crime rates, higher divorce rates, and a greater need for community services to assist women and children in need. It’s no coincidence that pawn shops are usually next door to casinos. Arkansas won’t be any different. This is an industry that preys on poor people.”