Proponents of Arkansas Casino Gaming Request Rehearing

by Jim Hall

Arkansas Supreme CourtAfter the Arkansas Supreme Court removed a referendum that would have seen a vote on casino gambling in the state, proponents of the measure request a rehearing.

During the November 8th ballot voting, the state of Arkansas was set to have a referendum put in place that would see casinos added to three counties if the measure was approved. There are both proponents and opponents of the measure, each working hard to see their side win. Now, it seems the opponents are on the winning side, as the measure has been removed from the ballot by the Arkansas Supreme Court. The proponents are now asking to see the measure looked at once again by the Supreme Court.

Removal of the Proposal From the Ballot

It was just last week that the Arkansas Supreme Court decided to reject the proposed amendment on the ballot with a vote of 6 to 1. Justices found that the ballot summary was not sufficient as it failed to instruct voters that the authorization of sports betting would be in violation of federal gambling laws. The decision removes the question from the ballot and the potential for the state to be able to offer casino gaming if voters had approved the measure.

Request for Rehearing

Yesterday, the supporters of the casino amendment requested that the Supreme Court look again at the case, arguing that the federal ban was misapplied by the court. Arkansas Wins in 2016 and Arkansas Winning Initiative are two groups in favor of the amendment. Todd Wooten is an attorney working for both groups who made the request for the rehearing, stating that the law only applies to legislative attempts to legalize sports betting.

According to Wooten, the amendment gives the General Assembly the right to legalize several options for gambling, including sports betting, and the potential for conflicting laws is not significant and does not indicate that the amendment should have been removed from the ballot.

In the Supreme Court opinion, Justice Karen Baker, stated that the language of the amendment is in clear conflict with the federal law that prohibits sports gambling in the state. The judge is referring to the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act from 1992.

Money Spent on the Issue

At the same time as the ruling was made, information was provided on campaign finance reports for those for and against the amendment. Reportedly, the Cherokee Nation spent $6 million to try and push for passage of the amendment while horse and dog tracks spent over $1.4 million in opposition. Both campaigns had time lines in place and money set aside for efforts to push their agenda. Much money was spent in September as the ballot was nearing the vote. Opponents spent more than $1 million during the month to try and sway voters to vote No during the election. Though, now the measure will be voided unless the court changes their decision.

Robert Coon is an Arkansas Wins in 2016 spokesman who stated that the ruling is disappointing. Coon also pointed out that the ballot title had been approved by the attorney general of the state and the required number of signatures were taken and certified by the office of the secretary of state to move the process along for a vote.

However, the Supreme Court obviously felt the language of the title was deceiving. It will be interesting to see if the court does rehear the matter and if any changes are made to place the referendum back on the ballot. Proponents would love to be able to see the measure back up for a vote while opponents will do everything in their power to ensure the decision by the court stands.