Arkansas AG Rejects Driving Arkansas Forward Casino Amendment a 4th Time

Red REJECTED stamp

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge has decided to reject efforts by Driving Arkansas Forward for a fourth time this year. She ruled Monday to deny certification of a popular name and ballot title for a proposal that would allow voters to decide if casinos should be created in the state.

On Monday, Rutledge declined to certify a proposal for an amendment that the ballot committee of Driving Arkansas Forward submitted, which would have allowed the construction of four casinos. Tax revenues from the venues would fund projects for the state’s highways. A second group, Arkansas Wins 2018, submitted a similar amendment proposal, which was also rejected by Rutledge just last week.

Current gaming landscape

Stand-alone casinos are currently not allowed under Arkansas law. However, electronic games are allowed if they are based on skill. There are two such racing venues in the state that offer electronic gaming, West Memphis’ Southland Park Gaming and Racing as well as Oaklawn Racing and Gaming in Hot Springs.

With the proposed amendment by Driving Arkansas Forward, the government of the state would have been authorized to issue licenses to four casinos: one for the Oaklawn facility, one for Southland, and one casino each in Jefferson and Pope County. This proposal is slightly different from the committee’s first submission, as they were originally seeking as many as three casinos without specifying that racetracks be involved.

Driving Arkansas Forward submitted the popular name and ballot title to the attorney general, with the popular name describing the proposal in brief and the ballot title providing a summary of the proposed amendment. Both must be certified by the AG in order to give the committee approval to collect signatures to see the proposal make it to the ballot this fall.

If Rutledge had approved the measure, Driving Arkansas Forward would have been able to begin the voter signature gathering process. A total of 84,859 valid signatures from voters registered in the state would need to be submitted by July 6 to qualify their proposal for the November ballot.

Not approved

Unfortunately for the ballot committee, Rutledge did not approve the popular name and ballot title. In a 10-page opinion sent to the attorney representing Driving Arkansas Forward, Alex Gray, AG Rutledge wrote: “It is my opinion, based on the … guidelines established by the [state Supreme] Court, that some additions or changes to your ballot title (and possibly your popular name) are necessary so that the ballot title more fully and correctly summarizes your proposal.”

Rutledge added that there were some “ambiguities” in the proposal’s text that need to be resolved before she would give her approval. For example, the AG mentioned that, when the popular name and ballot title are read together, it strongly implies that if the amendment were approved, a casino would be located at or adjacent to the facilities that exist at Southland and Oaklawn and she feels the statements could be misleading.

The AG wrote: “If there is no assurance that there will be casinos at the Southland and Oaklawn locations, this must be clarified and accurately summarized in the popular name and ballot title.”

Supreme Court intervention

As of yesterday afternoon, attorneys representing Driving Arkansas Forward responded to the Attorney General’s opinion by filing a lawsuit, asking the Arkansas Supreme Court to intervene. In the lawsuit, Rutledge is faulted for labeling the proposed description of the amendment as misleading, with the group stating that the AG had understood the proposal correctly.

The lawsuit was prepared by Steel, Wright, Gray & Hutchinson, PLLC, with attorney Alex Gray claiming that Rutledge’s reading of the proposal was “strained” and “clear abuse of her duties”.

Don Tilton, chairman of Driving Arkansas Forward, told the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette: “The law provides a means of recourse in a situation like this. This is not hostile toward the Attorney General. Petitioning the Supreme Court is simply the next step for us to take.”