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The Arcade Arkansas committee has started collecting signatures for a proposed constitutional amendment that would authorize coin-operated amusement machines, a committee spokesman said Tuesday.

Under the amendment, the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery would administer and regulate licenses for coin-operated amusement machines and operators. Net machine receipts would be subject to a 20% tax with the revenue distributed to the lottery's office.

If the committee obtains enough signatures of registered voters, the proposal would go on the November 2020 general election ballot.

The proposal would require the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery to license 50 coin-operated amusement machines and any qualified operator applicant.

Each machine licensee would be allowed to own and lease up to 300 machines to operator licensees.

Each operator licensee would be allowed to make up to 10 machines available for commercial use and play by the public.

The Arkansas Arcade committee's chairman is William Beams of Hot Springs and the treasurer is James Johnson of Searcy, according to the committee's filing with the Arkansas Ethics Commission dated Aug. 23.

The committee started collecting signatures Friday night and "as of now all of our canvassers are paid, but we will be adding volunteers soon," said committee spokesman Jason Cline.

Sponsors of proposed constitutional amendments are required to collect 89,151 signatures of registered voters by July 3, 2020, to qualify their measures for the Nov. 3, 2020, general election ballot, said Chris Powell, a spokesman for the secretary of state's office.

The committee filed its proposal with the secretary of state's office Thursday, Powell said.

Asked who is financing the campaign, Cline said, "I will be filing the reports with all of that information as required" under state law.

Neither Beams nor Johnson could be reached for comment by telephone Tuesday afternoon.

"The amendment authorizes amusement machines currently legal under Arkansas law to be taxed at an elevated 20% with all proceeds benefiting the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery," Cline said in a recent news release.

"In a time where college tuition and student loan debt are spiraling out of control, it is imperative that solutions be offered to fund college for all Arkansans. Under this amendment, these amusement machines would be licensed and regulated by the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery and redeemable prizes do not include cash but are limited to merchandise valued at less than $5 and lottery tickets," he said.

Cline said places such as Veterans of Foreign Wars halls and American Legion posts will be able to offer these machines as entertainment and generate revenue to provide events for veterans.

"Every day, veterans across the State congregate at veterans' organizations, and this will provide the funding for these organizations to continue to offer entertainment and events for those that have honorably served our great country. This proposed amendment would be an added benefit to help reach veterans in Arkansas," he said.

Asked how much the proposed constitutional amendment is projected to raise each year for the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery, Cline said Tuesday,

"We haven't completed an economic impact study yet but as soon as we do we will release the findings."

The proposed constitutional amendment states that it would not amend, repeal, or otherwise affect Amendment 84 authorizing bingo and raffles; Amendment 87 authorizing the General Assembly to create a lottery for college scholarships; Amendment 100 authorizing casino gambling at up to four casinos; Act 1151 of 2005 authorizing electronic games of skill; or Arkansas Code Annotated 26-57-401 to the extent those amendments and laws do not conflict with the proposed amendment.

Family Council President Jerry Cox said Tuesday in a written statement that this proposed constitutional amendment "will bring casino-type gambling machines into convenience stores and eating places all over Arkansas.

"It will turn the corner convenience store into a casino and create hangouts where people can gamble 24 hours a day," Cox said.

"This amendment is not about helping students or veterans. This amendment allocates absolutely no money for scholarships or veterans. Instead, it turns all the money over to Arkansas' failing lottery. It allows up to 15,000 gambling machines with little or no oversight to prevent fraud. The state of Georgia has spent years trying to dig itself out of the crime these machines and their owners brought to the state," he said.

Asked for a response to Cox's remarks, Cline said, "I don't care to comment."

In response to Cox's comments, Bishop Woosley, director of the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery, said Tuesday that the agency just finished the best fiscal year in its history and raised more than $98 million for scholarships for Arkansas students.

"Over the last ten years the lottery has raised over $850 million ... that helped families in Arkansas offset the high price of college tuition," he said in a written statement.

"Arkansas families have [benefited] due to the ... scholarships that have been awarded due to the money the lottery has raised. We are proud of the success of the lottery and grateful for our players, retailers and the students that benefit from our mission," Woosley said.

The lottery started selling scratch-off tickets on Sept. 28, 2009. It has helped financed Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarships for more than 30,000 students in each of the past nine fiscal years.

For fiscal 2020, which started July 1, Woosley has projected total revenue of $497 million and net proceeds for college scholarships of $89.3 million.

Metro on 09/04/2019

Print Headline: Coin-run amusement push in state begins

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