Arkansas casino measure faces 2nd lawsuit

Group says filing will seek Issue 4’s removal from ballot

An attorney for a Russellville-based committee opposed to a proposal to authorize four casinos in Arkansas said the group will ask the state Supreme Court today to yank the measure from the general election ballot.

Attorney Chris Burks said late Tuesday afternoon in an email that "the Supreme Court's office just called and said they were closing at 4 for the day, so the lawsuit paperwork won't actually be filed until tomorrow morning."

Citizens for Local Choice and its president, Jim Knight of Russellville, will seek to have the state's high court remove Issue 4 from the general election ballot or bar Secretary of State Mark Martin from certifying or counting any votes for the proposed constitutional amendment, Burks said.

In its draft lawsuit, the committee contends that the proposed constitutional amendment's ballot title is misleading and omits information needed for a fair understanding of the scope and impact of the proposal.

For example, the ballot title fails to inform voters that the measure, which would overturn the state's constitutional ban on monopolies and perpetuities, gives exclusive, perpetual licenses for casino gambling and alcohol sales over which local voters and governments would lose their liberty to approve, according to the draft of the lawsuit.

Nate Steel, a counsel for the Driving Arkansas Forward and Arkansas Jobs Coalition committees that are promoting the proposed constitutional amendment, said that although he has not reviewed the specific allegations, the challenge is coming from a group that has opposed the measure from the beginning.

"At no time have they ever claimed that it is unclear until now. They clearly understood the amendment, and in fact reacted to it by proposing local ordinances and resolutions in response. So it is clear that this isn't about the language of the amendment -- it is about trying to deprive the voters of a chance to vote on an issue that 100,000 Arkansas (including thousands from Pope County) petitioned to have on the ballot," Steel said in a written statement.

Citizens for a Better Pope County, also known as the Citizens for Local Choice committee, filed a statement of organization Tuesday with the Arkansas Ethics Commission stating it is being formed to oppose Issue 4. In a statement of organization filed Aug. 31, the committee said it advocates for an amendment to the Pope County code of ordinances to refer to a local election the question about the county judge or Quorum Court supporting a casino or casino applicant.

In the Nov. 6 general election, Pope County voters will cast ballots on a proposed initiative that would bar the county judge or the Quorum Court from supporting a casino there without a local election granting authority for such action.

Issue 4 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; a franchise holder in Crittenden County, which is now Southland Racing Corp., at or adjacent to Southland Gaming and Racing in West Memphis; and a franchise holder in Garland County, which is now 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.

Under the proposed amendment, a licensee in Jefferson and/or Pope counties would be required pay an application fee, demonstrate experience in casino gambling and submit a letter of support from the county judge or a resolution from the county quorum court. If the proposed casino would be located in a city, the licensee would also need a letter of support from that city's mayor.

On Monday, the Ensuring Arkansas' Future committee filed suit against Martin, asking the state Supreme Court to strip the proposed measure from the general election ballot. Four of the committee's members are plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed by attorney Scott Trotter of Little Rock. They are Corinne Stiritz of Pope County, Bill Wheeler of Crittenden County, Kenneth Carney of Garland County and Bobby Gene Smith of Jefferson County.

Ensuring Arkansas' Future's lawsuit said the high court should strike Issue 4 from the ballot or bar the secretary of state from canvassing or certifying any ballots cast for the proposal. The committee cited problems with Issue 4's popular name and ballot title. Both are the language that appears on the ballot for voters to read.

The lawsuit said Issue 4's popular name is misleading and not intelligible, fair and impartial in three particular instances. For example, the lawsuit said, the popular name designates Southland Racing Corp. and Oaklawn Jockey Club Inc. as entities that must receive a casino licenses, but the amendment's text does not name those corporations.

Steel said Monday that the lawsuit is without merit.

The Quapaw tribe has expressed interest in applying for a casino license in Jefferson County, while the Cherokee Nation has indicated its interest in the possibility of being involved in a casino in Pope County.

The Driving Arkansas Forward and Arkansas Jobs Coalition committees are chaired by lobbyist Don Tilton, whose clients include the Quapaw tribe. Through July 31, the Driving Arkansas Forward committee reported a total of $2.26 million in contributions, including $1.2 million from the Downstream Development Authority of the Quapaw Tribe in Quapaw, Okla., and $1.05 million from Cherokee Nation Businesses LLC of Catoosa, Okla.

Metro on 09/12/2018

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