Arkansas Attorney General Approves Casino Referendum Language

Posted on: March 21, 2024, 12:54h. 

Last updated on: March 22, 2024, 11:02h.

Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin (R) has signed off on proposed language for a ballot referendum that seeks to amend the state constitution and rescind a commercial casino license allocated for Pope County.

Arkansas casino Pope County Tim Griffin
Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin speaks during a news conference at the Arkansas Capitol alongside Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R). Griffin this week approved of proposed ballot referendum language that would change how the state goes about issuing commercial casino licenses. (Image: Arkansas Advocate)

A group called Local Voters in Charge is behind the citizen-led referendum initiative. The ballot committee wants to change how the state goes about determining where commercial casinos can operate.

Griffin’s office this week slightly amended the proposed ballot language submitted by Local Voters in Charge before lending his blessing. The referendum seeks to alter Amendment 100 passed in 2018, which allowed the Arkansas Racing Commission to issue commercial casino licenses for Crittenden, Garland, Jefferson, and Pope counties.

Local Voters in Charge wants to mandate that a casino license only be issued to a county after voters in the targeted county approve of slot machines, table games, and sports betting through a special election.

Pope in Focus

Three of the four county casino licenses have been issued and commercial gaming properties have since opened. Pope County is the outlier, as a complex legal scandal has kept the license with the state gaming agency.

Pope County was one of only 11 counties among Arkansas’ 75 that voted against Amendment 100 in 2018. Despite local opposition, the statewide referendum outcome allowed the Arkansas Racing Commission to consider bids for a casino in the county.

Two bids were presented. Oklahoma-based Cherokee Nation Businesses and Mississippi-based Gulfside Casino Partnership each submitted pitches to build a casino resort in Russellville. Regulatory and application errors, state courts ruled, have resulted in the license remaining unissued more than five years after it was authorized.

Local Voters in Charge seeks to change the casino licensing process to include local voters where a casino might be allocated. The casinos in Crittenden, Garland, and Jefferson — Southland Casino, Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort, and Saracen Casino Resort — would be grandfathered in and be immune from the constitutional change.

The proposed referendum would require that a majority of voters endorse a presented casino plan during a countywide special election before the Arkansas Racing Commission can grant a gaming license.

This measure will keep casinos out of communities that don’t want them and allow local voters to determine the character of their hometowns,” said Hans Stiritz, a Local Voters in Charge spokesperson. “We look forward to bringing our proposal to the voters of Arkansas during this busy canvassing season, and ultimately to the ballot this fall.”

For the ballot question to reach voters in November, Local Voters in Charge must obtain and validate signatures from at least 90,704 registered voters in Arkansas. The canvassing must include signatures from a minimum of 50 counties.

The Arkansas Secretary of State’s Office is responsible for validating the signatures presented by citizen-initiated referendum campaigns.

The Arkansas Racing Commission plans to open its bidding period for the Pope County casino license this summer. It will mark the third bidding period for the county concession.

Lottery Referendum

Arkansans will face at least one ballot referendum involving gaming come November. State lawmakers have already passed a bill that will ask voters if they support amending the Arkansas Constitution to allow the state to use lottery proceeds to fund vocational-technical school scholarships.

Currently, the state constitution allows lottery revenues to only be used for scholarships and grants for Arkansas citizens enrolled in “public and private nonprofit two-year and four-year colleges and universities.”