Arkansas Casino Expansion Advocates Halt Process to Hold Statewide Vote

Posted on: August 10, 2020, 03:31h. 

Last updated on: August 10, 2020, 01:49h.

A planned Arkansas vote to expand legalized gambling has been effectively withdrawn by organizers. That’s after state officials challenged the process used to collect signatures on a petition to pave the way for the constitutional referendum.

Arkansas casino vote withdrawn
Organizers of a vote to expand the number of casinos in Arkansas dropped their initiative. Arkansas Secretary of State John Thurston (above) questioned the validity of the signatures submitted for the referendum. (Image: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)

Arkansas Wins in 2020 recently dropped its initiative to open 16 more casinos in the state, The Arkansas Times reported. A court appeal was withdrawn, and the group will no longer attempt to be on a statewide ballot in November.

The move follows a decision by Arkansas Secretary of State John Thurston that said Arkansas Wins in 2020 failed to conduct appropriate criminal background checks on the paid canvassers who gathered the signatures. Also, the title of the ballot was not approved by the state Board of Election Commissioners, the Arkansas Times said.

Initially, Arkansas Wins in 2020 had been planning to appeal the recent rulings by state regulators.

Arkansas Wins in 2020 has filed a motion for a voluntary nonsuit and will not be taking further legal action,” Taylor Riddle, spokesman for Arkansas Wins in 2020, said in a statement announcing the group’s decision. “It is unfortunate that the Secretary of State’s office was unwilling to defend the will of the nearly 100,000 Arkansas voters who signed our petition and we believe our argument before the Supreme Court was valid.”

The dispute between Arkansas Wins in 2020 and state officials also led the Arkansas Supreme Court to appoint retired Circuit Judge Kathleen Bell to act as an arbitrator over the disagreement.

Signatures Rejected

Arkansas Wins in 2020 presented 97,039 signatures to Thurston’s office in July, and the secretary of state’s ruling then led to criticism from Riddle.

To hold the vote on the constitutional amendment, the group needed 89,151 valid signatures, the Democrat-Gazette said. State election officials held that 58,675 of the submitted signatures initially met the required guidelines.

A previously approved Arkansas constitutional amendment allowed casinos in Crittenden, Garland, Jefferson, and Pope counties, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.

Arkansas’ three existing casino operators also opposed the vote to permit 16 additional casinos in the state. The three casino companies funded Protect Arkansas Communities, which opposed efforts to legalize new gaming properties.

Pope County Casino Dispute Continues

A legal battle between the Cherokee Nation Businesses and Gulfside Casino Partnership is ongoing over a planned casino in Pope County. Last month, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox ruled he will not intervene in the ongoing dispute between Gulfside and Cherokee Nation Businesses as to which casino operator should win the Pope County license.