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Backers of proposal to add 4 casinos in Arkansas win extension

More voters’ signatures sought to put measure on ballot by Michael R. Wickline | July 26, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

The sponsors of a proposed constitutional amendment that would authorize four casinos in Arkansas have another 30 days to collect more signatures in an attempt to qualify their proposal for the Nov. 6 general election ballot, an official in the secretary of state's office said Wednesday.

Elections Director Leslie Bellamy said the secretary of state's office has determined that the ballot proposal's sponsors turned in no more than 70,054 valid signatures of registered voters from the initial count of 94,880. But 84,859 valid signatures are needed to get the proposal on the ballot.

"While this petition is currently insufficient, it does meet the thresholds contained within Article 5, [Section] 1 of the Arkansas Constitution to qualify for a thirty ... day cure period, subject to the decision of any court on review," she wrote in a letter dated Wednesday to Nate Steel, counsel to the Driving Arkansas Forward and Arkansas Jobs Coalition committees that are promoting the proposal.

The deadline to turn in the additional signatures is Aug. 24, Bellamy said. The secretary of state's office would then validate those.

"Our canvassers have continued to be active since July 6, gaining additional signatures for this proposed amendment," Steel said in a written statement, referring to the date that petitions with signatures were submitted. "We expect to obtain the required number of signatures during this cure period."

"We are confident Arkansas voters will have the opportunity on Nov. 6 to keep tax revenue in the state and create jobs with new casino entertainment options in four regions of our state."

The proposed constitutional amendment would allow the state Racing Commission to issue casino licenses to applicants within 2 miles of Russellville in Pope County and Pine Bluff in Jefferson County, as well as to Southland Racing Corp. for a casino at or adjacent to Southland Gaming and Racing in West Memphis and to Oaklawn Jockey Club Inc. for a casino at or adjacent to Oaklawn Racing and Gaming in Hot Springs.

State law now permits Oaklawn and Southland to offer so-called electronic games of skill, so the ballot proposal would allow them to expand their gambling operations.

The licensees in Jefferson and Pope counties would be required to each pay an application fee, demonstrate experience in casino gambling and submit a letter of support from local officials.

On May 24, Republican Attorney General Leslie Rutledge cleared the way for the Arkansas Jobs Coalition to begin collecting signatures by certifying its popular name and ballot title for the proposal. Her action came after the state Supreme Court gave her three days to either approve an unrelated proposed initiated act to raise the state's minimum wage or substitute her own language.

Through the end of last month, the two largest contributors to the Driving Arkansas Forward committee are the Quapaw and the Cherokee tribes that have collectively given $1.2 million.

Lobbyist Don Tilton is chairman of both the Driving Arkansas Forward and Arkansas Jobs Coalition committees. He is a lobbyist whose clients include the Quapaw Tribe, which has expressed interest in applying for a casino license in Jefferson County.

Amanda Clinton, vice president of communications for Cherokee Nation Businesses, said, "If the people of Arkansas choose to amend their constitution and allow gaming, and if Pope County residents agree that gaming will bring economic development and additional jobs to the area, we'd be very enthusiastic about pursuing a presence there.

"The decision ultimately lies in the will of the people of Arkansas," Clinton said earlier this month in a written statement.

Earlier this month, the Pope County Quorum Court approved a resolution urging the county judge not to issue a letter of support for a casino there if Pope County voters reject the proposal, even if it's approved statewide.

It's projected that the casinos would raise about $120 million in net gambling receipts tax revenue, according to Steel. Under the proposed amendment, a casino's net gambling receipts would be subject to a tax of 13 percent on the first $150 million and 20 percent on receipts above that amount.

Fifty-five percent of the tax receipts would go the state general revenue fund and 17.5 percent to the Racing Commission for purses for live horse and greyhound racing. Eight percent of the receipts would go to the county in which the casino is located, and 19.5 percent would go to the city or town where the casino sits, or to the county if the casino is not in a city or town. If approved by voters, the proposed amendment would become effective on or after Nov. 14.

Other initiated proposals awaiting word on whether they have enough signatures to make the ballot are a constitutional amendment to tighten term limits for legislators and a proposed law to raise the minimum wage. The Legislature also proposed two amendments. One, challenged in court, would restrict damages from lawsuits and allow the Legislature to set court rules. The other proposal would require voter identification when casting ballots.

Metro on 07/26/2018

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