Included in a flurry of decisions today the Arkansas Supreme Court decided that citizens of the state will not get to decide whether to legalize three new casinos.
Apparently, the ballot referendum didn’t fail due to well-known challenges or an opinion, perhaps improperly conveyed, by a special master last week. Rather, the court decided that the ballot title didn’t properly inform voters that the law would allow sports betting, which would be in conflict with federal law.
Justice Karen Baker wrote an opinion for the majority with only Justice Rhonda Wood dissenting. Chief Justice Howard Brill also wrote a concurring opinion.
According to court documents the text of the ballot title of the Constitutional Amendment includes the words, “…accepting wagers on sporting events or other events.” In two of the Justice’s opinions, the title would mislead the voters as it fails to inform them that federal law (the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act) prohibits Arkansas and most other states from authorizing sports gambling.
Council for the sponsors of the bill argued that parimutuel, animal racing, and jai-alai games are not prohibited by federal law and that the title is not insufficient as the Amendment instructs the legislature to; “take into account applicable federal laws when it enacts laws,” reasoning that the General Assembly would not permit sports betting. They also argued that the Amendment contains a severability clause, allowing the balance of the bill to stand if the Assembly severed any possibly illegal provision.
In the end, the bill was shot down before the people could decide. However, some reports indicate that as the bill had already been certified and ballots have already been printed, the question of Issue 5 will appear on the ballot November 8, but the votes will simply not count.
Robert Coon, spokesman for the Arkansas Wins in 2016 campaign said, “Our campaign is disappointed in the court’s decision today. Most importantly, it’s a shame that the voters of Arkansas, including the more than 100,000 that signed our petitions are being denied opportunity to vote on an amendment that would create thousands of jobs and more than $120 million in new tax revenue for the state and local communities.”
Opponents of the measure released a prepared statement that used such language as, “It was clear from the beginning that these two characters from Missouri teamed up with the Cherokee Indian Tribe from Oklahoma to rig the Arkansas Constitution for their own personal benefit.”
The opponent’s organization, known as Protect Arkansas’ Values/Stop Casinos Now filed a report with the state ethics office showing contributions of $109,500,00. Oaklawn Racing and Gaming contributed $59,000 in two infusions and Delaware North, owners of Southland Park Gaming & Racing contributed $50,000.00 in a single instance as of Sept 13, 2016.
As of 9-15-2016, Arkansas Wins in 2016, LLC had cumulative totals of $25,500 but had received no contributions in the month of August. Going further back, however, on 5-13-2016 Arkansas Resorts & Gaming of Branson, MO contributed $25,500 and $15,000 of that was spent on advertising that month. Another $3,000 was spent on petition printing the next month and a disbursement was made to Arkansas Winning Initiative, Inc. with a Branson address on June 3.
On June 23, 2016, Arkansas Wins in 2016 announced an agreement with Cherokee Nation Entertainment to operate a Washington County casino in northwest Arkansas.
This article has been updated 10-13-2016 p.m. with the following –
According to a McClatchy DC news report today, much more money was spent than we reported based on publically available information from the Arkansas Ethics Commission. Television ad buys from both sides amounted to more than $2 million in attempts to influence voters before the November 8 elections.
According to the report, the Center for Public Integrity released data showing that well over 2,000 ads were aired in the fight that pitted, at its core, two existing Arkansas gaming providers against so-called out of state interests. Oaklawn Racing and Gaming is owned by the Oaklawn Jockey Club, Inc, headed up by 80-year-old Charles J. Cella, whose family has been involved in the track since it reopened in 1916, but who was born and raised in Missouri and still calls St. Louis “home”. Southland Park Gaming & Racing is owned by Delaware North, a New York corporation headed up by Jeremy Jacobs with 179 hospitality venues located throughout North America, Australia, and the U.K. including 8 gaming or racing venues, all located in the U.S.
The Center for Public Integrity report noted that the Oaklawn/Southland coalition called Protect Arkansas Values/Stop Casinos Now laid out more than $1.2 million on advertising. Arkansas Wins in 2016, headed up by interests in Missouri as well, spent over $1 million. The figures do not include money spent on cable television advertising.
In February, the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law reported that about $1.3 million had been spent by candidates and outside groups on television ads leading up to the March 2016 election of two Arkansas Supreme Court Justices.