Arkansas Gambling Enforcement Bill Vetoed by Governor Hutchinson

Posted on: April 6, 2017, 03:00h. 

Last updated on: April 6, 2017, 03:12h.

An Arkansas gambling enforcement bill that sought to relax oversight procedures has been vetoed by Governor Asa Hutchinson (R).

Arkansas gambling enforcement ABC
Arkansas gambling enforcement of nonprofit groups like the VFW will continue to be subjected to inspection by the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control. (Image: Harold Hoch/Reading Eagle)

Senate Bill 496, authored by State Sen. Scott Flippo (R-Mountain Home), would have prevented members of the Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) from enforcing laws relating to gambling. Under the state’s charitable gaming law, groups like the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFWs), Elk’s Club, and other nonprofits can house gaming machines and facilitate bingo and small games of chance like pull tabs.

Flippo wanted to mandate that ABC inspectors look the other way if they came across allegedly unlawful gaming operations while examining an organization’s adherence to state liquor laws. The legislation easily passed both chambers of the Arkansas General Assembly last month.

In his veto, Hutchinson said enforcement agents cannot be told to disregard the Arkansas law.

“With this bill, the legislative branch has singled out a single enforcement agency in an effort to prevent the executive branch from enforcing existing criminal laws,” Hutchinson declared. “Prohibiting executive enforcement of laws enacted by the General Assembly is not the proper method to address these concerns.”

Harassment Claims

The Arkansas government has long opposed gambling, but it’s often looked the other way in regulating certain games.

While charitable gaming is permissible at nonprofits, slot and video gaming machines have popped up in gas stations throughout the state. Owners argue the games are legal, as winnings are given in store credit, not cash.

ABC officials either tip off local authorities to illegal machines in stores, or shut them down on the spot. Flippo said his constituents and businesses in his district are being harassed, and the alcohol bureau, which falls under Hutchinson’s executive branch, shouldn’t be the authority when it comes to determining gaming legality. 

But with the governor’s veto, convenience store owners who believe their machines fall within the law will remain subjected to ABC crackdowns.

No Expansion

Arkansas doesn’t permit commercial gambling, but does have two pari-mutuel gambling establishments located at racetracks. Oakland Park, a thoroughbred facility, and Southland Park, a greyhound track, have over 2,600 gaming machines combined.

Though the state approved only “skill-based” machines in 2005, today simple games of chance and reel machines are offered at the venues. In addition, the gaming floors offer electronic versions of blackjack, roulette, craps, and poker. Oakland also has a small poker room with five tables.

Voters were set to decide whether to approve three land-based commercial casinos last November. But a well-funded opposition effort filed a lawsuit challenging the ballot measure’s language, and in October the state’s Supreme Court sided with the anti-gambling coalition.

Without any full-fledged commercial or tribal casinos, Arkansas’ borders have become littered with gambling options. Tennessee’s Lady Luck Casino, Mississippi’s Trop and Harlow casinos in Greenville, and Oklahoma’s Choctaw Casinos line the Arkansas borders.

Proponents argued it was time to update the state’s antiquated gaming laws and stop the flow of money and valuable taxes to other jurisdictions. Arkansas Wins, the advocacy group for the ballot question, also marketed their campaign bringing in new jobs and economic growth.