Three Arkansas casinos could be cleared for construction as early as November should a proposal being pushed by a citizens’ group find favor with state Attorney General Leslie Rutledge and be subsequently approved by voters next fall.

Arkansas casinos Asa Hutchinson

New year, new gambling efforts to legalize Arkansas casinos. That presumably won’t sit well with Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson. (Image: Staton Breidenthal/Arkansas Online)

“Driving Arkansas Forward” submitted a constitutional amendment to Rutledge’s office last week that seeks to allow three casinos to be built in Arkansas. The proposal suggests that the gaming floors share 12 percent of their gross revenues with the state, with the vast majority of those funds earmarked for the Arkansas Department of Transportation (ArDOT).

ArDOT has already commented on the proposal, saying that should commercial gambling be authorized in the Razorback State and the department receive the bulk of the projected $45 million in annual proceeds, most of the money would be used to improve roads.

“Our highway system must be a priority if Arkansas wants to remain competitive nationally and provide the best economic opportunities to our residents,” Driving Arkansas Forward representative Nate Steel said in a statement. “This amendment focuses on highway funding while creating a fair, transparent and merit-based process for issuing gaming licenses.”

The casinos would be allocated to Jefferson and Crittenden counties, and a third in either Miller, Mississippi, Pope, Union, or White county. Each winning casino operator would need to invest at least $100 million.

Arkansas is currently home to two parimutuel racetracks that also offer slot machines, but no full-fledge commercial or tribal casinos.

Powerful Opposition

Before the group can begin obtaining the necessary 84,959 signatures required to place the referendum on the ballot, Rutledge must sign off on the proposal title and wording. In 2017, she repeatedly refused such gambling efforts.

Rutledge’s job is to approve or reject ballot measures’ language. Her personal opinion on a proposal’s objective isn’t supposed to play a role.

Over the last few years, citizen Bruce Emigh has continually submitted casino referendum proposals. Rutledge struck down two submissions by Emigh in 2017 alone, with her saying in her latest rejection that the casino ballot name was “impermissibly misleading and wholly deficient.”

Rutledge’s rejection might have been warranted, as Emigh’s proposal “title” ran 785 words in length. She ruled no voter could adequately assess the ballot question in a reasonable amount of time.

Driving Arkansas Forward’s odds might be better. Their Arkansas casino referendum is known as “The Arkansas Casino Gaming and Highway Funding Amendment of 2018.”

However, in the past numerous political leaders in Arkansas have opposed gaming efforts. Along with a strongly controlled Republican legislature, Governor Asa Hutchinson (R) is one such powerful figure, as the popular governor believes the risks of authorizing gambling outweigh the potential financial benefits.

Additionally, a 2016 poll of likely voters found that just 38 percent of Arkansans supported the authorization of commercial casinos. Forty-nine percent were against, and 13 percent remained undecided.

The research, conducted by Hendrix College, found that those under the age of 45, African-Americans, and Democrats were most inclined to support gambling.