The Arkansas casino ballot question known as Issue 4 has finally achieved certification from Secretary of State Mark Martin’s office to go before voters this November.
The proposal will ask Arkansans whether they want to amend the state constitution to authorize four casinos. The question would earmark the facilities for the Oaklawn horse racetrack in Hot Springs, Southland greyhound track in West Memphis, and new venues in both Pope and Jefferson counties.
It’s time to keep that money where we live to support our economy, improve our infrastructure and create new jobs,” Driving Arkansas Forward (DAF) spokesman Nate Steel said in a statement. DAF is the nonprofit committee behind the effort.
After several delays, Martin’s office said DAF had successfully submitted 99,988 valid signatures from registered voters. In 2018, 85,000 qualifying signatures are needed to put a ballot question before voters.
Two Native American groups in neighboring Oklahoma are funding the DAF campaign. State finance records show that the Quapaw Tribe and Cherokee Nation have collectively been responsible for nearly all of the group’s $2.2 million in donations.
Both tribes have historical ties to Arkansas, and plan to make bids on the Pope and Jefferson county casinos should the amendment receive simple majority support.
Gross gambling revenue would be taxed at 13 percent on win up to $150 million, and 20 percent thereafter. Fifty-five percent of the tax money would be reserved for the state general fund, 19.5 to the host city, 17.5 percent to the Arkansas Racing Commission, and eight percent to the host county.
You might have noticed none of the taxes generated from the casinos would be specifically reserved for the Department of Transportation. DAF has marketed its push as a way to improve roads.
One commercial voiceover tells viewers, “We can all agree that Arkansas roads are in trouble. Issue 4 will expand Arkansas gaming and tourism, generating more than $120 million in tax revenue per year. Tourism dollars coming into Arkansas, and not out of our pockets, to fix our roads.”
The Arkansas Highway Commission issued a statement last month warning voters that the casino question doesn’t guarantee money to fix state roads.
The Highway Commission has no position on gambling in Arkansas. The fact is, the proposed Constitutional amendment regarding casino gambling is not a highway funding proposal,” the agency explained.
Pew Research reports that Arkansas is the fifth most religious state, with 70 percent of citizens saying religion is “very important in their lives.” That might not bode well for a question about allowing new forms of gambling to operate in the state.
With Issue 4 certified for the ballot, critics are speaking up. Governor Asa Hutchinson (R) is one of them.
“Let me emphasize that on these amendments, I have to vote just like everybody else, but it’s ultimately up to the people to decide ‘yea’ or ‘nay,'” Hutchinson said this week. “I will vote ‘no’ on the casino amendment because I have always opposed the expansion of casino gambling.”