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Casinos proposal for ballot rejected

Ambiguities cited in measure’s text by Michael R. Wickline | April 11, 2018 at 3:25 a.m.

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge late Tuesday afternoon rejected a proposed popular name and ballot title for a proposed constitutional amendment that would authorize the creation of four casinos at specific locations in Benton, Boone, Miller and Pulaski counties to raise more money for highways.

The proposal has been advanced by the private Arkansas Wins in 2018 Inc. committee. The president of the committee is retired businessman Mark Diggs of Little Rock, and its secretary-treasurer is businessman Bob Womack of Branson, according to its filing with the Arkansas Ethics Commission.

While existing Arkansas law doesn't allow stand-alone casinos, it permits electronic games of skill that now exist at Oaklawn Racing and Gaming in Hot Springs and Southland Park Gaming and Racing in West Memphis.

In her letter to attorney Randall Bynum, who represents the Arkansas Wins In 2018 Inc. committee, Rutledge wrote that "a number of additions or changes to your ballot title are necessary in order to more fully and correctly summarize your proposal."

She said she cannot fairly or completely summarize the effect of a proposed measure in a popular name or ballot title "because of several fundamental ambiguities in the text of the measure itself." The popular name briefly describes the proposal and a ballot title is a lengthier summary. Both appear on the ballots.

Rutledge's certification of the ballot title and popular name is required to clear the way for the Arkansas Wins in 2018 Inc. committee to begin collecting the required 84,859 valid signatures of registered voters by July 6 to qualify the proposal for the Nov. 6 general election ballot.

The Republican attorney general wrote in her letter to Bynum that "a fatal deficiency of primary importance, in my opinion, is the complete lack of information regarding casino licensing under your proposal, and whether there is any correlation between ownership of the properties listed in your proposal and licensing of a casino or a casino operator."

Three times this year, Rutledge has balked at signing off on a proposed popular name and ballot title for a different proposed constitutional amendment advanced by the private Driving Arkansas Forward committee. The committee's proposal would authorize state government to issue four casino licenses with one each for Jefferson and Pope counties, Oaklawn in Hot Springs and Southland in West Memphis to raise more money for highways. The committee's initial proposal would have authorized up to three casinos.

The Driving Arkansas Forward committee has submitted another proposal to Rutledge for her consideration, said Nate Steel, counsel for the committee. Lobbyist Don Tilton, whose clients include the Quapaw Tribe that's interested in applying for a casino license, has said he is the temporary chairman of the committee. Cal Turner of Little Rock is the treasurer, according to the committee's filing.

Metro on 04/11/2018

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