Arkansas Highway Commission Cautions Voters on Casino Ballot Question

Posted on: August 30, 2018, 04:00h. 

Last updated on: August 30, 2018, 03:48h.

The Arkansas Highway Commission (AHC) issued a statement this week warning residents that a proposed ballot amendment that would change the state’s constitution to allow commercial casinos will provide no tax revenue for road improvements as advertised.

Arkansas Highway Commission casino amendment
Arkansas Highway Commission Chairman Dick Trammel says allowing casinos to enter the state will provide no guaranteed benefit to roads. (Image: Stephen Thornton/Arkansas Democrat Gazette/Mike Brown/Commercial Appeal/

Driving Arkansas Forward, a nonprofit organization that is trying to put the gambling question before voters this November, has said the four casinos that would be authorized under the amendment would lead to better roads.

“We can all agree that Arkansas roads are in trouble,” a campaign advertisement declares. “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 only problem is that the Issue 4 amendment as currently drafted earmarks no dollars for the AHC or Department of Transportation.

Driving Arkansas Forward has submitted its final batch of signatures to the state. Should Secretary of State Mark Martin’s office validate the required 70,054 signatures, the casino question would be placed on the November 6 ballot. A simple majority of voters would pass the amendment.

Highway Robbery

Issue 4 would authorize a casino in both Pope and Jefferson counties, and permit the Southland Park greyhound track in West Memphis and Oakland horse racetrack in Hot Springs to incorporate slot machines and table games.

The Arkansas Highway Commission says that’s all fine and well, but don’t bet on casinos to help fund transportation infrastructure improvements.

“Citizens need to understand that the proposal does not direct any of the revenue to be generated from the casinos to our state’s highways, despite what some of the promotional ads are implying,” the AHC said in a statement. “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.”

Issue 4 would tax casinos at a rate of 13 percent on the first $150 million in gambling revenue, and at 20 percent on revenues greater than $150 million.

Casino Tax Breakdown

  • 55 percent to the Arkansas General Revenue Fund
  • 19.5 percent to the host city
  • 17.5 percent to the Arkansas Racing Commission
  • 8 percent to the host county

Committee Fires Back

Driving Arkansas Forward was quick to respond to the Highway Commission’s statement. Nate Steel, a former Democratic Arkansas House of Representatives member, is the legal counsel for the group.

This attack on a citizens’ ballot proposal by a state agency is unprecedented, unfair and inaccurate,” Steel declared. “Driving Arkansas Forward advertisements cite facts and make clear these additional tax revenues could be used for roads and highways, and it is the organization’s primary goal to make sure our policymakers dedicate more money for highways.”

Steel unsuccessfully ran for attorney general in 2014 against current AG Leslie Rutledge (R). Rutledge had denied more than 50 ballot initiatives since taking office in 2015, including several that dealt with gambling expansion.

She signed off on the Driving Arkansas Forward petition after the group motioned to the state’s Supreme Court to review her “unnecessarily burdensome standard” in approving ballot language.