Arkansas Group Submits Signatures to Get Casino Question on November Ballot

Law & Politics
Edward Scimia

Updated by Edward Scimia

Journalist

Last Updated 8th Jul 2024, 07:56 PM

Arkansas Group Submits Signatures to Get Casino Question on November Ballot

Volunteers drop off boxes of petitions Friday at the Arkansas state capitol in Little Rock in an effort to get a referendum on the November ballot that effectively would threaten the Cherokee Nation’s casino license in Pope County. (Image: Thomas Metthe/Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Associated Press)

A group named Local Voters in Charge has successfully submitted more than enough signatures to get a statewide referendum on the Arkansas ballot this November, one that would require local support from voters for casinos if approved.

According to the organization, it submitted more than 162,000 signatures to the office of Arkansas Secretary of State John Thurston on Friday morning, well above the 90,704-signature threshold needed to get a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot. 

Amendment Would Nullify Pope County Casino License

To gain ballot access, a group must also hit minimum ballot requirements in at least 50 of Arkansas’ 75 counties. According to Local Voters in Charge, it hit the minimum in every county in the state.

“In record numbers, the people of Arkansas have supported our campaign to give local voters the final say on whether a casino should be built in their town or not,” Local Voters in Charge committee member Hans Stiritz said, according to CBS affiliate THV 11. “Some communities might want casinos, others might not, but nearly everyone agrees that it should be up to local voters to determine the character of the communities in which they live.”

The amendment would also go a step further when it comes to the newly issued Pope County casino license. If approved, it would also nullify that license, potentially throwing another wrench into a casino process that has been ongoing for six years there. 

“Our amendment language was approved by the Attorney General and we have substantially exceeded the signature and county distribution requirements for ballot initiatives,” Stiritz said. “The people of Arkansas have, by their signatures, demanded a vote on this issue.”

Investing in Arkansas, a group opposed to the ballot measure, issued its own press release in response to news of the signature submission.

“While sufficient signatures may have been turned in, this group – solely backed by a rejected out-of-state casino operator, the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma – has spent the last several months lying to Arkansans about the true intent of this ballot initiative,” Natalie Ghidotti, vice chair of Investing in Arkansas, wrote in a statement. “This small group wants you to believe their efforts are about a local vote, but in reality, it is about revoking the casino license from Pope County – a license awarded just last week by the state of Arkansas to Cherokee Nation Entertainment.”

Dueling Tribes Take Sides on Amendment Question

Ghidotti’s statement is accurate, as Local Voters in Charge has received $2.45 million in funding from the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, and only $100 from other sources. The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma operates the Choctaw Casino & Resort Pocola, located just over the Arkansas border, about 90 miles west of the proposed site of the Cherokee Nation Entertainment casino complex in Russellville.

However, a similar story is true for Investing in Arkansas, which has received the entirety of its $775,000 in funding from Cherokee Nation Businesses, according to the Arkansas Times blog

The question of whether Pope County supports a local casino is one without a clear answer. When the state voted on the 2018 statewide amendment that allowed for four counties to host casinos, Pope County was the only one of the four where a majority of voters came out against the proposal. However, a poll released by Investing in Arkansas found that 55 percent of local voters supported the development of a casino in Pope County, compared to 40 percent who opposed it. 

“Arkansas voters approved Amendment 100 in 2018, and a majority of Pope County voters still stand by that decision,” Ghidotti wrote. “This small group, funded by the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, is trying to rob Arkansans of thousands of jobs and shut down what will be historic economic growth for the community, region and state.”

Even if the Cherokee-backed group can defeat the proposed amendment, there are other challenges to its Pope County casino. Gulfside Casino Partnership, who failed to secure the Pope County license, has filed a lawsuit seeking to invalidate the license issued to Cherokee Nation Entertainment, claiming it was unfairly locked out of the licensing competition due to existing exclusivity deals between the tribe and local officials. 

This is the second time the people behind Local Voters in Charge have attempted to put a referendum challenging the Pope County casino license on the ballot. In 2022, Stiritz led Fair Play for Arkansas, which ultimately was unsuccessful at collecting enough valid signatures to get essentially the same question on the ballot. 

Note: Online casinos are not legal in Arkansas yet. In the meantime, players can take advantage of social casinos today.

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Edward Scimia
Edward Scimia
Journalist Journalist

Ed Scimia is a freelance writer who has been covering the gaming industry since 2008. He graduated from Syracuse University in 2003 with degrees in Magazine Journalism and Political Science. In his time as a freelancer, Ed has worked for About.com, Gambling.com, and Covers.com, among other sites. He has also authored multiple books and enjoys curling competitively, which has led to him creating curling-related content for his YouTube channel "Chess on Ice."

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