Thursday, 13 October 2016 07:11
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday disqualified a proposal to legalize casinos in three counties from the November ballot, ordering officials to not count any votes cast for the measure in the election.
Justices sided with opponents of the proposed constitutional amendment, which would have given three private companies rights to run the casinos in Boone, Miller and Washington counties. The companies are owned by supporters of the ballot measure, and they would have been able to transfer their licenses to other firms.
The high court ruled that the ballot title did not inform Arkansas voters that the measure would violate a federal law prohibiting sports gambling in the state.
“The voters are entitled to a ballot title that is honest, impartial and intelligible and will give them a fair understanding of the issues presented,” the court wrote in its majority opinion.
The lawsuit challenging the measure was filed by a group funded by a Hot Springs horse track and a West Memphis greyhound track, both of which offer video poker and other forms of electronic gambling. The lawsuit alleged that the proposal was misleading to voters and that supporters didn’t follow state law for reporting and registering paid canvassers.
Arkansas Wins in 2016, the group behind the casinos proposal, had cast it as a way to boost tourism and create jobs in the state. The group earlier this year struck a deal with Cherokee Nation Entertainment to run the Washington County casino if voters approved the measure. The Cherokee Nation donated more than $1.4 million to the casino campaign, which had been running television ads statewide touting the proposal.
The high court ruled that no votes would be counted for the measure in the Nov. 8 election.
The measure also faced opposition from Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who said he didn’t think the state needed any more gambling. In addition to the race tracks, Arkansas also has a lottery funding college scholarships and bingo by some charitable organizations.
The ruling comes the same day that data released by the Center for Public Integrity showed that supporters and opponents of the casino measure have spent more than $2 million on television ads.