Arkansas Legislators Rally Against Casino Referendum

Posted on: September 14, 2016, 03:00h. 

Last updated on: September 14, 2016, 02:07h.

 Arkansas casino ballot opposed by 40 lawmakers lead by Rep Greg Leding
Arkansas Representative Greg Leding is leading the charge of 40 lawmakers opposed to a ballot permitting casino gaming in the state. (Image: Danny Johnston/Associated Press)

Arkansas’ push to legalize casinos faces opposition from a bipartisan group of 40 state lawmakers, many of whom spoke out against the proposal at a news conference this week.

State residents are due to vote on the question of whether to legalize casino gaming, thanks to the efforts of the Arkansas Winning Initiative (AWI), which wants voters to amend the constitution to allow up to three casinos in the state.

AWI collected over 100,000 signatures in favor of casino gaming, enough to force a referendum under state law.   

But last week, anti-casino group The Committee to Protect Arkansas’ Values/Stop Casinos Now filed a lawsuit in the Arkansas Supreme Court aiming to stop the ballot in its tracks.

Misleading Language

The group argues that the language of the ballot misleads the public into believing that sports betting would be available at the proposed casinos. In fact, it is illegal under federal law everywhere outside of Nevada, Delaware, Oregon and Montana. It also asserts that the ballot fails to convey comprehensively to voters the consequences of the measure.

Eight of the objecting lawmakers gathered at a press conference at the state Capitol organized by the anti-casino group this week, with Representative Greg Leding (D-Fayetteville) leading the charge.

“If you look at the legislators here behind me, I think we represent just about every point on the political spectrum, which should give you an idea about the breadth and depth of opposition to this idea,” he said.

“We’d be carving out a special place for private enterprise within our state constitution, not providing any kind of check on that power that would be handed to these businessmen,” he added.

Concerns for College Kids

Leding was specifically concerned about the proposal to establish a casino near the University of Arkansas campus in Washington County. “The idea that we would allow a 24-hour casino with 24-hour alcohol sales to be built on the back steps of our state’s flagship university I think is just a very bad idea,” he said.

As well as Washington County, the campaign proposed the creation of casino licenses in Boone and Miller counties. Cherokee Nation Entertainment, which operates nine casino properties in Oklahoma, has said it would be investing in the Washington County property should voters opt to amend the constitution.

Voters have rejected several casino legalization proposals since 1994, although they did approve the establishment of a lottery in 2008. In 2012, a group supported by the state’s racetracks successfully sued to have a similar casino proposal stricken from the ballot.