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The Arkansas Two-Step

By John Brummett

This article was published June 25, 2014 at 5:00 a.m.

Consider the four keys to economic success in Arkansas.

One is entrepreneurial spirit and hard work. Another is to be born to it. Another is to marry it.

The last, and our topic today, is to cash in on the state’s propensities for hypocrisy and anti-competitiveness.

Take the Razorbacks, just for starters and grins.

They profess to be possessed of the brave spirit of intercollegiate athletic competition. But their historic success—to be distinguished from their recent success, which has not occurred—is based in large measure on an actual aversion to that spirit.

It’s based on anti-competitive fear.

The Razorbacks steadfastly decline to engage in competition with other teams in their intrastate market.

Similar states like Kansas, Oklahoma, even Mississippi, especially Mississippi—they don’t establish in-state collegiate athletic monopolies as we do. Their teams line up against each other in free-market sports activity.

Sometimes they beat our monopoly football team with two or more of their in-state competitors. Last year two Mississippi teams beat our monopoly. The year before, two Louisiana teams beat our monopoly.

We’re simply anti-free market here in what we call the Land of Monopoly … I mean, Opportunity. We prefer to insulate our favored institutions from the threat of dissipation from competition.

I speak of gambling and liquor, of course.

As a state, we deem gambling wrong and self-destructive. So we dare not let people compete for riches in this area of vice. Instead we insist that the profit of sin flow only to a protected two.

We have a horse track called Oaklawn and a dog track called Southland.

When abutting jurisdictions expand their gambling options, we respond by doubling down on our protectionism. We let Oaklawn and Southland operate as casinos without actually being called casinos—for casinos, you see, would be wrong.

You may push the slot-machine button twice in our non-casinos. The second push is the player’s option if the first push didn’t win anything. That makes the device a matter of personal decision, thus a matter of skill, not a gamble, thus not wrong. Don’t you see?

Now to selling booze …

More than half the counties of Arkansas are called “dry,” meaning they are stuck in the long-abandoned national Prohibition era of the 1920s—when, as you know, no one ever had a drink of alcohol.

Arkansas is the last state in the country to have most of its counties dry. It’s very odd—not to mention futile—to create supposed teetotal islands. Some of the most raging drunks I ever heard of lived in presumably dry counties.

But not all of our state’s dry areas are really dry. If they get big enough for commercial exploitation—like Jonesboro, Conway and Benton—then they may have restaurants serving alcoholic beverages so long as those restaurants are arbitrarily restricted and called something other than restaurants. Private clubs, for example.

And our state’s package liquor stores operate on a strict licensing basis—also known as protectionism—that holds down competition.

In that regard, nothing benefits more from our hypocritical and anti-competitive spirit than a liquor store in a wet county located near the line separating it from a dry county. The prevailing hypocrisy of the dry county supplies a captive consumer base for the anti-competitive vendor down the road in the wet county.

And it’s better for people in dry counties to drive to get their booze, you see. Especially college kids.

If we require higher-education matriculants to take to the highways for alcohol, then they will be less likely ever to befoul their lips with fermented drink. Don’t you see?

Hypocrisy. Anti-competitiveness. It’s the Arkansas Two-Step.

That brings me to the following: Two petition drives are under way to qualify issues for the November ballot to make Arkansas less hypocritical and more of an actual market economy.

One, underwritten largely by Wal-Mart, would make “wet” the bustling communities of Saline, Faulkner and Craighead counties. That would let a retailer such as Wal-Mart—and assorted others—stock beer and wine in those places.

The other issue? It’s merely epic. Little Rock lawyer David Couch and others are leading petition efforts for a ballot issue to make the whole state of Arkansas as wet legally as it is practically.

I’m for it, mainly for compassionate reasons.

When the day comes when the Razorbacks get beat by Arkansas State, their fans are going to need a drink. There will be no good reason to limit arbitrarily their consumer choices.

And there will be no good reason to limit arbitrarily the commercial opportunities of the venture capitalists who might seek to provide that relief.

John Brummett’s column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at Read his blog at, or his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.


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BobGlover says... June 25, 2014 at 6:03 a.m.

This is one (probably the only) of your columns that is wholly correct. One of my pet peeves is the fact that Jonesboro is a 'dry' county, yet 'private clubs' such as almost every restaurant can sell liquor. Either let everyone sell it, or make the entire county dry.

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hah406 says... June 25, 2014 at 8:37 a.m.

I love it...last things first. Have you ever counted the number of liquor stores on the Pulaski - Saline county line on I-30? There are like four of them the first quarter-mile into Pulaski! I am just sayin someone in Benton and Bryant is having a drink or something...
But let's talk football. All Arkansas State needs to do for an annual Arkansas - Arkansas State match-up is grow up enough to join one of the power-five conferences. Kansas - K'State both Big 12. Ditto for Oklahoma - Oklahoma State. South Carolina - Clemson SEC and ACC respectively. Ole Miss and Mississippi State both SEC. You see the theme here. Especially with the SEC's new focus on scheduling competitive opponents, Arkansas State needs to step up to one of the big five conferences and I bet it will be game on!

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CFSmith says... June 25, 2014 at 8:39 a.m.

My colleagues and I in business constantly bemoan Arkansas's bad business practices and quirky laws (just take a look at border towns on our side vs "their" side of the border for the effects) and am very grateful you've written this article. This could be applied the state on multiple levels. Archaic and short-sighted, lacking respect of higher education and mismanagement by cronyism. I can only hope that this state changes in the better else it will end up being... well, like it is. Which isn't good.

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Vickie55 says... June 25, 2014 at 8:56 a.m.

So, hah, just which power five conference does La-Monroe play in? Yet the Razorbacks are willing to schedule a game with them. The Razorback would have probably been embarrassed by the Red Wolves the last 2-3 years.

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Vickie55 says... June 25, 2014 at 8:59 a.m.

John, I totally agree with the wet/dry issue. My county went wet a few years ago and guess what? The world has not ended. Life has gone on pretty much the same. I could never understand the reasoning behind encouraging people to go elsewhere to spend their money.

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Johnbrummett says... June 25, 2014 at 9:22 a.m.

Correction: 38 counties now wet , leaving 37 dry. The columnist regrets his error.

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RedWolfInjuneer says... June 25, 2014 at 9:48 a.m.

Hah, just a quick rebuttal. Let's look at your other SEC brethren. LSU has played both ULL and ULM; Bama has played Troy; Kentucky has played WKU the last 2 years; Florida has played both FIU and FAU; Tennessee and Vanderbilt have both played Middle Tennessee State. Just not sure why Arkansas State needs to get in a P5 conference when the other SEC members are not afraid to play instate sunbelt teams.

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conwaytwt says... June 25, 2014 at 9:52 a.m.

You missed another instance of state-sanctioned gambling: lotteries. Amusingly, that additional exception was supposedly created to educate our citizens via our local colleges and universities. (Just like football scholarships were.) Predictably, as our education level increases, more folks are able to understand how economically unrewarding the lottery part of the venture is. Consequently we have too many folks eligible to remove large sums from the till (including scholars AND lottery administrators) than folks choosing to voluntarily pay in.

Our vices (including football fandom, gambling, and drinking) are yokes pulling our weak local economy. The state doesn't want to unlink its hitch to allow more competition because the monopoly interests and the state interests align so nicely.

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GiveUsLiberty says... June 25, 2014 at 11:08 a.m.

Spot on Brother John! Proof that Conservatives & Liberals can agree on something.

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Hillnester says... June 25, 2014 at 11:44 a.m.

I was about to advise you to once again to stay in the arena you play best in and then found myself cheering you on, and then you stopped. What about the monopolies of the statewide liquor and beer distributors? Well, leave the beer guys out for now that actually has an argument. But the three liquor distributors with their historically rumored reputations have had a stranglehold on the state since prohibition. Then there are wine laws which are so archaic that they are a matter of humor in other states - I can't order a bottle of wine that I can't find here because the big 3 don't carry it and hope to have it shipped here from California. I want to thank whoever was lobbying for the Craft Beer Industry, that legislation was free competition and reflective of a free market. If it wasn't for the Craft Beer laws NWA would be strangled by the only 2 existing beer distributors remaining. #Arkansaslibationlaws

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