Arkansas Casino Legalization on November Ballot

The Capitol, Little Rock, Arkansas

A lot of states are currently focusing on legalizing sports betting in their states. However, Arkansas is concerned with another issue, with a strong push for casino legalization coming from some quarters, while there is a significant political resistance. The proposed amendment has been approved for the November 2018 ballot.

History of Arkansas gambling

Arkansas is one of those states that have traditionally been restrictive when it comes to gambling. For many years, only dog and horse racing betting were allowed inside the state’s borders. There are no tribal casinos in operation in the state or any gambling houses.

At two of the race tracks, there is a small selection of casino games, which is why they have been dubbed racinos. Certain electronic gaming machines are allowed at West Memphis and Hot Springs since they were legalized in 2005.

Parties have been pushing hard for casino legalization as of late and they have just gotten a big win.

Push for casino legalization

A few different groups are in favor of legalization of casinos in Arkansas. Their petition received the necessary number of signatures and has been checked and confirmed to have met the requirements.

This means the issue will be voted upon during the general election in November. All voters who are registered can decide upon this issue. Should it be approved, this would mean casino licenses being provided for new casinos in the likes of Oaklawn Jockey Club, Southland Racing Corporation, Jefferson County and Pope County.

There would also be electronic games of skill allowed in addition to those currently available at Southland Racing Corporation and Oaklawn Jockey club.

There would be an application process in place for those vying to receive the other two licenses. They would have to demonstrate that they have tangible experience of successfully operating within the gambling sector in the US.

Applicants would also need to meet various other requirements that are dependent on local officials and the likes. They would also need adequate support from the likes of local mayors.

The key parties pushing for this amendment are the Driving Arkansas Forward Committee and the Arkansas Jobs Coalition.

How beneficial could legalization be for the state? Projections show that annually the state could benefit by $120m (£92.8m) each year.

Of this, 55% would go directly to the state, while 17.5% would go to the Racing Commission in the state to help with the purses for dog and horse races. Thereafter, 8% would go to the county of the given casino, and 19.5% to the town or city where the casino is located, or else to the county if there is no nearby town or city.

This income would be generated from a 13% tax that would be levied on the initial $150m that is generated by the casinos. Anything in excess of this $150m (£116m) will be taxed at a rate of 20%.

What happens next?

The group behind this proposed amendment has been raising money to fund their campaign. A number of tribes in Oklahoma, for example, have donated up to $1m (£770,000) to the cause. In the latest financial year, the state generated revenues of $64.3m (£49.7m) from the games of skill that are found at the two racinos in Arkansas.

Initially, the group thought they had reached the required number of signatures for this issue to be added to the amendment. But the group was granted an extension after it was discovered that they were still short of the required number, after ruling out the likes of unregistered voters.

It has now been announced that they reached the target following this extension period. Therefore, the four casino licenses will be a part of the November 6 ballot. This is being opposed by Governor Hutchinson, who will be voting against this proposed amendment.

The elections director, who works independently of the office for the secretary of state, announced that 99,988 valid signatures had been submitted. The group had needed to obtain at least 84,859 for this measure to reach the ballot.

It was outlined how the majority of the funding for this proposed amendment had been supplied by the Quapaw and Cherokee tribes that were not located in the state. It is believed that the Quapaw tribe are eyeing up the Jefferson County license, with the Cherokee Nation being interested in the license for Pope County.

The last time that a casino legalization bill was on the ballot in Arkansas was in 2000 when 309,000 voters were in favour, with 544,000 against it.

If approved, this bill would mean six casino licenses will be issued, the creation of a state lottery and the legalization of charity bingo. Bingo and raffles operated by charities and different non-profits were approved by voters in 2006. The state lottery was approved in 2008 when approved by voters.