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story.lead_photo.caption FILE — Gov. Asa Hutchinson delivers remarks in January at the North American Free Trade Agreement summit in Rogers. NWA Democrat-Gazette/FLIP PUTTHOFF

Family members and executives connected with Arkansas' two casino gambling-style establishments -- Oaklawn Racing and Gaming in Hot Springs and Southland Park Gaming and Racing in West Memphis -- are among the largest donors so far to Gov. Asa Hutchinson's re-election campaign.

Southland Park's Jacobs family and Oaklawn's Cella family, plus executives and spouses, have contributed at least $113,825, according to campaign finance disclosure records filed with the Arkansas secretary of state.

The Jacobs family of New York, Massachusetts and Florida has donated at least $59,325; the Cellas, of Missouri, $54,500.

Almost all the campaign gifts -- all but $6,400 -- came in January and February this year.

Hutchinson's campaign claimed the largest donors for Republican and Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls, an Arkansas Democrat-Gazette review of disclosure records shows.

Among groups that contributed at least $25,000 since January 2017, all gave to Hutchinson, records show.

They include:

• Family members and executives with First National Bank of Paragould, at least $45,700.

• More than a dozen nursing home owners and employees from cities including Fort Smith and Melbourne, at least $43,800.

• Five highway construction political action groups listed at the same Little Rock post office box -- Arkansas Transportation PAC, Better Roads PAC, Construction Advancement PAC, Construction Industry Leadership PAC and Highway Safety PAC -- at least $26,500.

Photo by Kirk Montgomery
Gambling interests among big donors in governor’s contest

Hutchinson's campaign contributions dwarf those of his May 22 Republican primary opponent, Jan Morgan of Hot Springs, and the two Democratic primary contenders, Jared Henderson of Little Rock and Leticia Sanders of Maumelle.

The incumbent governor has amassed $3.6 million in donations and carry-over, about 10 times more than the other three other candidates combined, according to campaign finance disclosure records filed through April 15. The next filing deadline is today.

In the Republican primary, Morgan reported raising $85,492 so far against Hutchinson.

For the Democratic primary, Henderson listed $272,013 and Sanders listed $12,075.

The Libertarian Party's primary race for governor is uncontested.

Asked about the size of campaign contributions from the two gaming and racing interests to the incumbent governor's campaign, Hutchinson spokesman Jamie Barker wrote in an email that "less than five percent" of total contributions "from individuals who play an important role in our tourism economy is nothing out of the ordinary."

"The governor markets Arkansas tourism every day and Hot Springs and Crittenden County have attracted thousands of outside visitors for years," Barker wrote.

The newspaper also asked about the timing of 95 percent of the gambling-interest donations, received by Hutchinson's campaign in January and February this year.

About the same time, in late February, Southland and Oaklawn joined another group's effort to place a constitutional amendment before Arkansas voters that would legalize stand-alone casinos in four places in the state.

The Driving Arkansas Forward committee's proposed amendment would authorize casinos to raise more money for highways. The amendment would place one casino each near Pine Bluff and Russellville, one at the Jacobs family's Southland Park and the fourth at the Cellas' Oaklawn.

Existing Arkansas law doesn't allow for stand-alone casinos, but it permits electronic games of skill that now operate in casino-style settings at Oaklawn and Southland race tracks.

"The governor has played no role and has no role officially or unofficially in the hypothetical constitutional amendment that has yet to be approved by the attorney general," Barker wrote.

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge has rejected ballot language for the current proposed amendment four times, and she also rejected a similar amendment proposed by Driving Arkansas Forward that did not include casinos at Oaklawn and Southland.

Corporate spokesmen for Southland Park and parent Delaware North Companies Inc. of Buffalo, N.Y., and the Cellas' Oaklawn and Southern Real Estate of St. Louis did not respond to several calls for comment.

Arkansas campaign contribution laws no longer allow corporations to contribute directly to political races. Individuals, PACs and others have a contribution limit of $2,700 per candidate, per race.

To give much larger amounts usually requires individuals to coordinate their $2,700 checks, which often flow to candidates at about the same time, campaign records show.

Contributions to Hutchinson from the Jacobs family of Southland Park came from 11 family members or executives who gave the $2,700 maximum, usually for both primary and general election races, Hutchinson's campaign filings show. Several family members listed their employer as Delaware North.

The website of Delaware North Companies Inc. describes it as "one of the world's largest privately held companies" and cites Forbes magazine. The conglomerate operates food service and hospitality ventures on four continents, the website says.

The Cella family and Oaklawn executive donations to Hutchinson's campaign included 11 family members or key employees and spouses giving $2,700 maximum contributions per race. Hutchinson's campaign disclosure records list as employers the family's Southern Real Estate and Southwestern Enterprises Inc. of St. Louis, as well as Oaklawn.

The Democrat-Gazette reviewed more than 2,900 campaign contributions since last July filed in the secretary of state's electronic campaign finance disclosure system. The paper also studied more than 100 pages of earlier paper campaign contribution reports dating to Jan. 1, 2017.

A Section on 05/15/2018

Print Headline: Casino families key donors for Hutchinson; Governor’s fundraising dwarfs that of rivals, campaign finance records show


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  • Skeptic1
    May 15, 2018 at 8:31 a.m.

    Asa has been sucking on the government tit his entire adult life, he is the swamp and owes his good fortunes to lobbyists and big business. A vote for Jan Morgan is a vote against the swamp and for fiscal and moral accountability in our state government. Do the right thing Arkansas.

  • JLBBEE545815
    May 15, 2018 at 8:56 a.m.

    Jan Morgan has my vote this time before I read this report. The longer you leave them in the more corrupt them seem. Time for a change. P.S. I have kinda looked at the Henderson dem. Just a little.

  • MaxCady
    May 15, 2018 at 9:27 a.m.

    How much have they "donated" to Rutledge?!

  • mrcharles
    May 15, 2018 at 10:58 a.m.

    A little Diddy about trump & gop:
    Plutocrats live incredible lives, surrounded by luxury and insulated from risk and discomfort. Since W left office, the stock market has doubled, a $700 billion rescue of the financial system, & corporate profits are at a 50-year high.
    It is something of a puzzle to many of you little people why plutocrats, who have benefited most from these trends, view Obama with such intense disdain. Why, you might ask, given how good the economy has been to plutocrats, are you so maniacally angry? "Maybe," you say to yourself, "I just don't understand economics." .. a little secret,EWE understand economics just fine. What you don't understand is that this fight isn't about economics It's about status, privileges and power.
    Plutocrats don't hate Obama because he's going to raise our taxes, , We hate him because his views about the importance & primacy of the middle class diminish our status. It's not just our pocket books that are threatened, but, more importantly, our prestige & our influence on this country.

    Plutocrats have a long & proud history of controlling human societies, so the belief systems that we create about how the world works enables us . "Lowering taxes on the rich produces growth" is one of our current favorites.
    it's both annoying and hilarious that EWE people think you're going to be able to talk us out of being plutocrats with "evidence" or "facts". Our current position & power is the only fact republicans care about. And we viscerally hate anyone who has the temerity to challenge it. When Jack or Mitt call selves "Job Creators", it isn't because it's true or that there is any evidence for it. It's because being a job creator puts us right at the center of the economic universe - where we deserve to be. This belief system isn't just convenient to us, although it is. It's essential in order to justify our status & power.
    We used to call this "divine right". Today we call it "economics".
    A bard once said that plutocrats hate regulation for the same reason that robbers hate cops. That's a cheap shot, and under appreciates the sophistication of republican argument. Pluocrats are the "job creators", any restraint necessarily decreases the jobs that trickle down to you fools. That's why republicans deserve a free hand to ruin/run the country in whatever way suits us best.
    So what's puzzling you about why we hate Obama? He's in our way of Our incredible sway over politics, the economy and culture.

    note no racism mentioned.