Former Arkansas Judge to Mediate Casino Campaign Fight, Committee Says Signatures Valid

Posted on: August 3, 2020, 11:55h. 

Last updated on: August 3, 2020, 02:31h.

A former Arkansas judge is coming out of retirement to intervene in a legal scuffle that involves the state and a campaign seeking to expand casino gambling.

Arkansas casinos ballot referendum
An ex-judge in Arkansas will decide if the state secretary should move forward with considering signatures that claim to support expanded gambling. (Image: Talk Business)

Arkansas Wins in 2020 — a group trying to place a ballot referendum question before voters in November — submitted 97,039 signatures to Secretary of State John Thurston’s office last month. The secretary, however, wasted little time in rejecting the signatures, claiming that the committee erred in conducting criminal background checks of canvassers prior to seeking support from residents.

Arkansas Wins wants to ask voters whether they wish to greatly expand commercial gambling. The ballot question, if approved with a simple majority, would authorize 16 additional casinos.

Judge Intervention

The Arkansas Supreme Court last Friday appointed retired Circuit Judge Kathleen Bell to arbitrate the casino dispute.

Arkansas Wins says the secretary’s claims are untrue, and that the submission of signatures was accompanied by a statement regarding paid canvassers that read, “A ‘W’ certifies that the Paid Canvasser passed a criminal background check within thirty (30) days before first gathering signatures.”

Thurston’s office additionally claims that during the “intake analysis procedure,” election officials found that only 58,675 of the signatures met the minimum guidelines for further consideration. The 2020 Initiatives and Referenda Handbook lays out several key components that election officials use to discredit signatures.

  • A signature that is not an original signature
  • A signature that is obviously not that of the purported petitioner
  • A signature that is illegible
  • A signature that is not accompanied by personally identifying information
  • A signature for which the corresponding printed name, address, birth date, or date of signing is written by someone other than the signer except under circumstances of disability of the signer
  • A signature that has any other material defect that, on its face, renders the signature invalid

Judge Bell has been instructed by the Arkansas Supreme Court to review the state secretary’s actions and claims by the casino committee. She is to submit a report to the state’s highest court by August 17.

Casinos Lobbying

Arkansas’ three casino operators have come out in opposition to the ballot movement.

Protect Arkansas Communities, a committee funded by the three licensed casinos, is working to defeat any further undertaking to legalize new gaming facilities. In 2018, Arkansans voted in favor of Issue 4, which legalized four commercial casinos in four designated counties.

The Oaklawn and Southland racinos were permitted to transition into full-scale casinos with slot machines and table games. One new casino each was also allocated for Pope and Jefferson counties.

Work is underway in Jefferson. The Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma and its Downstream Development Authority has been approved by the county and Arkansas Racing Commission (ARC) to build a $350 million casino resort in Pine Bluff.

Pope County remains in a legal nightmare after ARC found one of its commissioners to have a bias in voting between two proposals. A legal battle between the Cherokee Nation Businesses and Gulfside Casino Partnership is ongoing.