The committees that backed a voter-approved constitutional amendment to authorize four full-fledged casinos in Arkansas spent $9.7 million of the $9.8 million in contributions that they raised, according to their latest campaign-finance reports.
And the committees that opposed what's now Amendment 100 to the Arkansas Constitution collectively reported raising about $180,000 and spending about $100,000.
The final reports for all ballot question committees were due Monday at the state Ethics Commission. The committees either backed or opposed measures proposed for the Nov. 6 general election.
The money raised for the 2018 casino proposal overshadowed contributions to backers of a 2016 proposed constitutional amendment. That casino proposal -- struck from the ballot by the Arkansas Supreme Court -- was backed by committees that raised $6.1 million and spent that much -- including a $1.5 million refund to its largest contributor. The 2016 measure's opponents reported raising and spending $3.1 million.
Amendment 100 authorizes the state Racing Commission to issue four casino licenses, including licenses for expanding gambling operations at Oaklawn Racing and Gaming in Hot Springs and Southland Gaming and Racing at West Memphis. It also will allow sports betting at the casinos. Under a 2005 state law, Oaklawn and Southland already operate electronic games of skill. Southland supported the ballot proposal, while Oaklawn took no position on it, according to officials for the companies.
The amendment also will allow for casinos in Jefferson and Pope counties. The Quapaw Nation wants to apply for the license in Jefferson County, while the Cherokee Nation has indicated its interest in a casino in Pope County if local officials favor it. Those casinos require approval from either the county judge or quorum court and the mayor if the casinos are in the city.
The Driving Arkansas Forward committee that promoted the casino proposal reported raising $7.1 million and spending $7 million through Dec. 6, leaving $70,837.12 in its campaign account, according to its final report. Lobbyist Don Tilton, whose clients include the Quapaw Nation, served as the committee's chairman.
The Downstream Development Authority of the Quapaw Nation in Quapaw, Okla., contributed $3.78 million to Driving Arkansas Forward, according to the final report.
The Quapaw Nation's contributions were "both offensive and defensive," said John Berrey, chairman of the Quapaw Nation, which operates two casinos in Oklahoma and has about 4,800 members.
"We wanted to protect our market in Northwest Arkansas, and we don't want to face these [constitutional amendment] challenges every two years," he said Wednesday. "For what we spent and the value of what we are getting, it's a good trade-off. We are from Arkansas. That's the important thing for us."
Cherokee Nation Businesses LLC in Catoosa, Okla., contributed $2.28 million to Driving Arkansas Forward. The parent company of Southland -- Buffalo, N.Y.-based Delaware North -- chipped in $1.16 million.
The Cherokee Nation has 10 casinos across northeast Oklahoma and a horse-racing track. It has 360,000 members in the U.S. and abroad, said Amanda Clinton, vice president of communications for the Cherokee Nation and Cherokee Nation Businesses LLC.
Neither Shawn Slaton, chief executive officer of Cherokee Nation Businesses and Cherokee Nation Entertainment, nor Clinton responded to written questions about whether the Cherokee Nation helped underwrite the campaign because its leaders thought a casino amendment ultimately would pass in Arkansas and Amendment 100 wouldn't affect its Oklahoma casinos as much as past proposals.
Cherokee Nation Entertainment is the gambling, hospitality and entertainment arm of Cherokee Nation Businesses.
As for the Cherokee Nation's interest in placing a casino in Pope County, Slaton said in a written statement that "should the citizens of Pope County decide they would like a casino in their county, CNE would like the opportunity to be the licensed operator."
In November, Pope County voters approved an ordinance to require local officials to get the permission of voters before supporting a casino there.
In the 2016 election, Cherokee Nation Businesses contributed $6 million to the Arkansas Winning Initiative Inc., which reported raising $6.1 million and spending that much to promote a proposed constitutional amendment that would have authorized three casinos in Boone, Miller and Washington counties. The committee's expenses included a $1.5 million refund to Cherokee Nation Businesses.
The three casinos would have been controlled by limited liability companies owned by two Missouri businessmen. Cherokee Nation Entertainment would have been involved in the Washington County casino complex.
But that proposal was struck from the ballot by the state Supreme Court, which sided with the Committee to Preserve Arkansas Values/Stop Casinos Now committee's argument that the ballot title for the proposal was insufficient because it failed to inform voters that federal law in effect then prohibited Arkansas and other states from authorizing sports gambling.
In May of this year, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal law that effectively banned commercial sports gambling in most states.
In 2016, the Committee to Preserve Arkansas Values/Stop Casinos Now reported raising and spending $3.1 million. Oaklawn and Southland's parent company, Delaware North, each chipped in $1.5 million.
In this year's election cycle, the It's Our Turn committee that backed the 2018 casino amendment reported raising $2.62 million and spending $2.62 million through Dec. 5, leaving nothing in its campaign account, according to its final report. Delaware North contributed $2.62 million to the committee.
"The goal of passing and supporting this amendment was to allow for Arkansas to grow its economy by creating millions of dollars in new investments, keeping millions of lost revenue from leaving the state and creating thousands of new jobs," said Delaware North spokesman Glen White.
"We are excited about the opportunities this creates and allows Arkansas to offer a top-level entertainment, hotel and casino experience," White said in a written statement.
Reports filed with the Ethics Commission by other ballot committees on both sides of Issue 4:
• Jobs for Pope County, a supporter, raised $50,000 from Gulfside Casino Partnership LLC of Gulfport, Miss., and $20,000 from Las Vegas-based Warner Gaming. The committee spent $69,125 through Oct. 27, leaving a campaign balance of $875.
• Vote No on Issue 4 Inc., an opponent, raised $150,300 and spent $75,445.56, largely on advertising and legal expenses. It returned $74,854.44 to contributors through Dec. 7. The committee received $150,300 in contributions from Las Vegas' Caesars Entertainment.
• Citizens for a Better Pope County, also known as Citizens for Local Choice, an opponent, raised $25,360 and spent $20.451.46 through Dec. 4, leaving $4,098.54 in its campaign account.
• Ensuring Arkansas' Future, an opponent, raised $4,600 and spent $4,600 through Nov. 14.
• The Family Council Action Committee, an opponent, raised $1,600 and spent $1,585 through Nov. 20, leaving $15 in its campaign account.
• The Arkansas Thoroughbred Racing and Breeding Alliance committee, created to monitor casino amendments, reported raising $20,000 and spending $20,000 through Nov. 30. Oaklawn Jockey Club Inc. contributed $20,000 to the committee, which returned $1.095.86 to the jockey club.
On Oct. 11, the Arkansas Supreme Court rejected separate requests from the Ensuring Arkansas' Future committee and Citizens for Local Choice to order Secretary of State Mark Martin not to certify or count votes cast on Issue 4.
The Arkansans for a Fair Wage committee that promoted the voter-approved initiated act on the state minimum wage reported raising $1.5 million and spending $1.49 million through Dec. 5, leaving $7,420.53 in its campaign account, according to its final report. The approved measure raises the state's minimum wage from $8.50 to $11 an hour by 2021.
The 1630 Fund nonprofit group, based in Washington, D.C., contributed $1.34 million to the committee, according to the final report. Since 2009, the 1630 Fund has financed more than 45 initiatives and managed more than $75 million in revenue for local, state and federal advocacy campaigns spanning social and environmental issues, according to its website.
The Arkansans for a Strong Economy committee that opposed the initiated act reported raising $151,100 in contributions and spending $137,817.12, largely for legal fees through Nov. 5, leaving $16,882.88 in the campaign account, according to its final report. On Oct. 18, the state Supreme Court rejected the committee's request to order Martin not to certify or count votes on the proposed initiated act, which is now Initiated Act 1 of 2018.
SundayMonday on 12/16/2018
Print Headline: Arkansas casino backers spent $9.7M, files show