Caution Urged as Arkansas Racing Commission Creates Casino Rules

Yellow caution tape

30-second summary

  • An attorney and two faith-based leaders have asked the Arkansas Racing Commission to slow the process of creating casino operation rules
  • The group also requested that sports betting be researched thoroughly before the state moves forward
  • A report was commissioned by the petitioners and presented to the commission by Drake University of Des Moines, Iowa, law professor and gambling expert, Keith C. Miller, suggesting the delay

Three individuals came forward recently in Arkansas to petition the state’s Gaming Commission regarding casino operation rules and sports betting. The trio consists of an attorney from Little Rock, Scott Trotter, a representative of Ensuring Arkansas’ Future; Jerry Cox of Family Council; and North Little Rock Rev. Stephen Copley.

These individuals represent groups that are opposed to casino gambling in the state. Back in November, Amendment 100 was approved by voters, legalizing casino gambling in Arkansas. After this amendment was approved, Trotter began reviewing the issue.

Trotter said: “I was interested in how the Racing Commission was going to go about trying to handle the enforcement and administration of the casinos. It is no question that they are woefully understaffed in order to ultimately do the job once the casinos are operating. They are really are going to be hard-pressed in a short period of time to come up with regulations both to govern applications and licensing as well as the extensive regulation of the casino operations.”

Report Contracted

The petitioners hired Keith C. Miller, a gambling expert and law professor at Drake University of Des Moines, Iowa, to prepare a report on gambling in the region. The report was filed with the commission just one day after a resolution was passed by the Johnson County Quorum Court involving a casino license.

By a vote of 7 to 4, the court agreed to support a change to Arkansas Amendment 100. The change would allow a casino license to be issued in Johnson County. Over 50% of the voters in Johnson County supported the amendment in November.

In the amendment, Pope and Jefferson Counties are named as specific areas where licensing could be provided. Two casinos can be created, based on the legislation. However, voters in Pope County were not in favor of casino gaming. Voters in this region approved an ordinance that requires voter approval before officials can support a casino.

Focus on Consumers

Prof. Miller’s study focused on issues that affect consumers and on the desire of the state to be able to create a regulatory system that will bring in tax revenues from casino gaming, while also minimizing the harm that gambling can sometimes cause.

In his findings, Miller suggested caution for the Commission in allowing casinos to extend credit to players. He also suggested that the location of automatic teller machines near gambling areas be reviewed. Extending credit gives gamblers with an opportunity to lose more than they can afford, Miller said, and having ATMs on the gaming floor makes it far too easy for gamblers to access their accounts.

He suggested that the Commission can create the safest environment for players by careful consideration of these aspects.

Miller’s report also says that the proposed rules for casino gamblers give too little attention to gambling disorders. It notes a 2015 law that removed a $200,000 annual contribution by the state’s Scholarship Lottery for compulsive gambling treatment and education programs. The move was made to provide more money for scholarships.

The change also got rid of the state’s gambling hotline. The hotline had been created when the lottery was started back in 2009. Miller pointed out that gambling disorders have more significance because of the prospect of sports betting.

Miller has suggested that the Commission adopt proposed rules for self-exclusion. A gambler would then be able to submit a form requesting that the individual be placed on a list at not allowed within a gambling facility. The proposed rules offer self-exclusion for interactive gaming, either online or via telephone. The rules do not include self-exclusion from the casino properties.

Reviewing the report

The Racing Commission has received the report findings and is reportedly reviewing the information. The proposed rules draft is currently in a public vetting process that ends today. A public hearing will take place later this week.

During the meeting, the Commission can choose to adopt rules or to modify or reject any proposed rules. Once ready, the rules will move on to a legislative committee for approval. Applications for casinos will not be considered until the rules of operation have been adopted.

The process of creating the rules for casino regulation started with Amendment 100 last fall. According to VSO News, the amendment passed with 54.1% of voter approval. The amendment not only allows two casinos to be created but also allows the Southland Gaming and Racing venue of West Memphis and the Oaklawn Racing and Gaming venue of Hot Springs to expand and offer full casino gaming.