Arkansas Supreme Court Rejects Pro-Casino Group Petition to Override AG on Ballot Proposal

Posted on: April 24, 2018, 03:00h. 

Last updated on: April 24, 2018, 12:04h.

The Arkansas Supreme Court on Monday rejected a petition by a pro-casino group to force the state attorney general’s office to approve the wording of its proposed ballot measure. The court gave no reason for its decision.

Driving Arkansas Forward fails to sue Arkansas AG Leslie Rutledge
Driving Arkansas Forward has failed in its attempt to sue Arkansas AG Leslie Rutledge in the highest court in the state over her persistent rejection of its casino ballot proposal. (Image: Danny Johnston/Associated Press)

Driving Arkansas Forward sued AG Leslie Rutledge when she rejected the wording of its proposal for the fourth time, citing ambiguities. The group wants to let voters decide on whether to expand commercial gaming in Arkansas but first it needs Rutledge’s approval.

The petition argued that Rutledge had applied an “unnecessarily burdensome standard” to the group’s ballot question, which it claimed was “clear and unambiguous.” Driving Arkansas Forward spokesman Nate Steel said the group had “acted in good faith to address the attorney general’s comments on a proposal that would improve Arkansas’ highways and create new jobs.”

Steel is a former Democratic Party state representative who stood against Rutledge in 2015 Arkansas Attorney General Election and lost.

Campaign Breaks Down

“Attorney General Rutledge is pleased that the Supreme Court agreed with her argument and denied the petition from Driving Arkansas Forward,” Nicole Ryan, a spokeswoman for Rutledge, said in a statement.

Recently, the Supreme Court has set a very high bar for proposals to be determined as sufficiently clear to appear on the ballot, and it is the attorney general’s responsibility is to ensure that voters fully understand what exactly a ‘for’ or ‘against’ vote means,” she added.

Driving Arkansas Forward had hoped to secure an emergency Supreme Court hearing for its case. The group will have to gather around 85,000 signatures to force the issue onto the ballot and needs to get its campaign on the road if it is to have any chance of putting the question to voters in November.

Back to the Drawing Board

It wants state residents to authorize two new commercial casinos in Arkansas and to allow full-scale casino gaming for the state’s two racetracks. As casino gaming is illegal, this would require an amendment to the state constitution. The revenues generated for the state would be largely used for roads projects.

But the Driving Arkansas Forward initiative seems to be stuck in reverse. Group spokesman Aaron Sadler acknowledged in a statement that it was back to square one but vowed not to give up.

“We are disappointed by the court’s decision because we believe voters deserve an opportunity to be heard on a matter that would support Arkansas highways and create jobs for communities that need them,” he said. “In the meantime, we will continue working to address the attorney general’s concerns so that we can begin collecting signatures as soon as possible.”