Commission rejects casino amendment ballot title; proposal would have removed Pope County as site

A roulette wheel spins in 2018 at Cherokee Casino & Hotel in West Siloam Springs, Okla. (File Photo/NWA Democrat-Gazette/Ben Goff)
A roulette wheel spins in 2018 at Cherokee Casino & Hotel in West Siloam Springs, Okla. (File Photo/NWA Democrat-Gazette/Ben Goff)

The Arkansas Board of Election Commissioners on Wednesday voted to decline to certify the ballot title for a proposed constitutional amendment aimed at removing Pope County as a state-licensed casino site.

In declining to certify the ballot title, some commissioners said it lacked a reference to the existing license held by Cherokee Nation Businesses for the casino site.

The state Board of Election Commissioners' action came after the board heard approximately an hour of testimony for and against the proposed ballot measure's popular name and ballot title.

Afterward, a spokesman for the Fair Play Arkansas 2022 committee that proposed the constitutional amendment said the group is disappointed with the board's decision and will review its options.

Dustin McDaniel, the legal counsel for Cherokee Nation Businesses, said the casino operator agrees with the election commissioners' decision and appreciates their “thoughtful and diligent service.”

“We assume Fair Play will petition the Supreme Court to review this decision and we will intervene to assist the Attorney General’s office in defending it,” McDaniel added.

Act 376 of 2019 shifted the responsibility for certifying a proposed ballot measure's popular name and ballot title from the attorney general to the state Board of Election Commissioners.

Certification of a proposed ballot measure's popular name and ballot title is one of the two requirements under state law for a ballot proposal to get on the general election ballot. The other requirement is for the secretary of state to certify that the sponsor has submitted the required number of valid signatures of registered voters on petitions.

More than three weeks ago, the Fair Play for Arkansas 2022 committee said it turned in 103,096 signatures in its attempt to qualify its proposed measure for the ballot.

The secretary of state's office hasn't yet announced whether the committee has qualified its proposal ballot or a 30-day cure period to collect more signatures based on the signatures submitted.

Amendment 100 to the Arkansas Constitution — approved by voters in November 2018 — authorizes the state Racing Commission to issue four casino licenses.

The licenses are authorized for expanding gambling operations at Oaklawn Racing and Gaming in Hot Springs and Southland Casino Racing in West Memphis, and for casinos in Jefferson and Pope counties with the endorsement of local officials.

Casinos are currently operating in Hot Springs, Pine Bluff and West Memphis.

In November, the Pope County casino license was handed to Cherokee Nation Businesses to build Legends Resort & Casino after the Arkansas Racing Commission ruled to nullify the license previously awarded to Gulfside Casino Partnership. The Pope County casino license has long been a source of turmoil for the county and the state, resulting in numerous court cases.

This story has been updated with the response from Cherokee Nation Businesses. It was originally published at 4:36 p.m.

Upcoming Events