There has been a lot of debate in Arkansas about whether the state should legalize sports betting and whether more casino licenses should be issued. These issues will now be issue number four on the November ballot.
Gambling history in Arkansas
Arkansas is one of many states have not been very forthcoming about expanding gambling laws. For many decades, only horse and dog racing were legal, and there are no gambling houses or Native American casinos in the state.
The fact that the two remaining racetracks offer some casino games has led to them being called racinos. Those games have been allowed since 2005 at Hot Springs and West Memphis. For many years, multiple parties have been pushing for the legalization of commercial casinos, which could now be within reach.
Striving for expanded gambling laws
Numerous parties have been pushing for an expansion of the gambling laws in Arkansas, particularly when it comes to legalizing casinos. The required number of signatures was obtained to put this proposal on the ballot for the November elections.
If this proposal passes, licenses would be issued for casinos in Pope County and Jefferson County, with Southland Racing Corporation and the Oaklawn Jockey Club expanding their current operations.
Currently, those who want to participate in casino games have to travel to places like Tunica, Mississippi, or Las Vegas to get a fix, but this could change very soon. Issue 4 on the November ballot would allow four casino licenses and would also legalize sports betting.
The reason that only two of the casino licenses would be for new developments is that the main group behind this initiative, Driving Arkansas Forward, wants to ensure that they are substantial resort casinos that are big attractions for tourists.
The locations have been chosen after looking at the regions’ population levels and economic needs. The mayor and county judge in a jurisdiction must approve before any project can begin.
The group behind this initiative predicts that the state could receive approximately $66m (£51m) annually in addition to $33m (£25m) going to the city or country in which the casino is located and $25m (£19m) going to Southland and Oaklawn. These figures have been contested by the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration.
Two main parties are opposed to this motion. They are the Family Council, a conservative group in the state, and the governor.
If sports betting is legalized and implemented, it would be subject to state law, and the racing commission would help implement new rules and regulations for the sector.
A similar measure was on the ballot in 2000, when it was rejected, 544,000 against and 309,000 in favor. The measure at that time would have called for six casino licenses, as well as a state lottery being created and charity bingo becoming legal. In 2006, charity bingo was finally approved, and voters approved the state lottery motion in 2008.
Is there much traction?
Significant amounts of money have been contributed to back this proposal for casino legalization in Arkansas.
Tribes from Oklahoma have donated as much as $1m to fund these operations. The tribes in question are the Quapaw tribe and the Cherokee tribe. The former is interested in the Jefferson County casino license while the latter would like to acquire the Pope County casino license.
Collecting the required amount of signatures to get this proposal on the ballot in the first place did not seem to be very difficult. The first time around, state officials found that, when they eliminated unregistered voters, the proposal didn’t have the required number of signatures.
It took only a matter of weeks to obtain the additional signatures needed. With substantial state revenues up for grabs if these casinos go ahead, plus new jobs and economic growth, it is likely that there will be a much closer vote than in 2000.