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Lawsuit asks Arkansas' top court to strike casino measure from ballot

by Michael R. Wickline | September 10, 2018 at 12:10 p.m. | Updated September 10, 2018 at 7:08 p.m.

A committee opposed to a proposed constitutional amendment to authorize the state to issue licenses for four casinos has asked the Arkansas Supreme Committee to strike the measure from the Nov. 6 general election ballot.

Committee members Judith Stiritz of Pope County, Bill Wheeler of Crittenden County, Kenneth Carney of Garland County and Bobby Gene Smith of Jefferson County also are named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed against Secretary of State Mark Martin.

The lawsuit, filed Monday by attorney Scott Trotter of Little Rock, contends that the proposed constitutional amendment's popular name is misleading and not intelligible, fair and impartial in three particular instances. It also maintains that the title that will be appear on the ballot is materially misleading to voters and omits information needed for a fair understanding of the proposal in more than 20 ways.

The lawsuit comes five days after Martin’s office determined that the proposed constitutional amendment proposed by the Driving Arkansas Forward and Arkansas Job Coalition committees qualified for the ballot.

Driving Arkansas Forward counsel Nate Steel on Monday called the lawsuit an "effort to circumvent our state’s initiative process and the will of 100,000 Arkansans who signed petitions to get this issue on the ballot."

"This lawsuit is not only meritless, but disingenuous, as evidenced by the fact that the attorney for this group, Mr. Trotter, contacted our campaign on multiple occasions during the certification process in support of the amendment," Steel said. "We believe the Attorney General was diligent and correct in reviewing this ballot title, and we have no doubt that it will withstand this legal challenge.”

The proposal would allow the state Racing Commission to issue casino licenses to: an applicant in Jefferson County within 2 miles of Pine Bluff; an applicant in Pope County within 2 miles of Russellville; Southland Racing Corp. at or adjacent to Southland Gaming and Racing in West Memphis; and Oaklawn Jockey Club at or adjacent to Oaklawn Racing and Gaming in Hot Springs.

Under current state law, Oaklawn and Southland operate electronic games of skill, so the measure would allow for expansion of their gambling operations, including sports betting.

Read Tuesday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.

CORRECTION: The committee member from Pope County is Judith Stiritz. An earler version of this story misspelled Stiritz's name.

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