PS: Casino amendment includes sports betting | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, May 24, 2018

PS: Casino amendment includes sports betting

Posted By on Thu, May 24, 2018 at 3:14 PM

BIG BUSINESS: Casino sports wagering. It could be coming to Arkansas.
  • BIG BUSINESS: Casino sports wagering. It could be coming to Arkansas.
A footnote on the effort now underway to gather signatures to put a casino gambling amendment on the ballot in November. It includes wagering on sporting events.

As reported yesterday, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge relented under order of the state Supreme Court and approved four proposals for ballot initiatives — two on casino gambling, one on legislative redistricting and one on the minimum wage.

The casino amendments are competing — one by a Missouri group that failed to reach the ballot two years ago and another that would solidify casino gambling already underway at Southland and Oaklawn Parks and allow a competition for two additional casinos, one each in Jefferson and Pope Counties.

Most don't expect a drive to begin on the Missouri proposal, which would legalize more casinos. That group enjoyed Indian tribe backing two years ago. This year, the Cherokee and Quapaw tribes of Oklahoma will be backing the new casino proposal, which also has the overt backing of Southland and the tacit approval of Oaklawn.

A wrinkle overlooked to date: The amendment would legalize sports wagering, currently prohibited by statute. A May 14 U.S. Supreme Court decision overturned a federal law banning sports wagering in most states. Sports wagering would include football, basketball and baseball games. Parimutuel wagering on horse and dog racing is already allowed at the tracks.

Alex Gray, the Little Rock lawyer working on the casino amendment (whose tax revenue would benefit highways), said the amendment included a provision from the start allowing sports betting if federal law changed. The failure of the Missouri group's proposal to mention that sports betting was illegal two years ago was a chief cause of its rejection by the court. Now, the offer no longer need be conditional. If voters approve the amendment, Oaklawn and Southland can begin sports wagering — if they choose — as soon as the state regulatory commission, the state Racing Commission promulgates new rules for casino gambling. Then, said Gray, "They'll be able to do it immediately."

Gray pitches the amendment as a fair approach to the recurrent issue of casinos, with opportunities for development in a couple of counties, solid benefits for two proven gambling operators, plus a benefit to state highway needs.

"Some will be for it, some against it. It's an opportunity to vote for a merit-based proposal. If the voters want it, we'll have it. If they don't we won't."

There are other conditions, of course, beginning with getting the proposal published by June 6 and then gathering 84,859 signatures. There's also always a possibility somebody will challenge the clarity of the proposal or sufficiency of the signatures.

I'll offer no odds of success, but I'd lay even money that the inclusion of sports bookmaking will be another quiver in the arrows shot at the proposal by groups such as the Family Council, a gambling foe. But, like beer drinking, sports gambling is an enormous business, popular even with many church-goers.

The proposal to be circulated will no longer be conditional on a change in federal law, since it has now changed, Gray said. I wonder: Does this language about "other events" mean we could mirror British bookmakers with bets on everything from political races to beauty contests.  My mistake. I relied on an early draft of the proposal. The final version is no longer conditional on a change in federal law and, because of questions from the attorney general, the words "other events" was stricken. That phrasing IS used in another proposal approved for the ballot.

One other amendment footnote: Rutledge yesterday still refused to clear Robert Reed's proposal to legalize marijuana, for what she said were multiple problems with the language. Gray is representing Reed in a lawsuit set for a hearing before Circuit Judge Chip Welch on Rutledge's refusal to approve a ballot title. That hearing is still set, Gray said. A federal hearing today on other issues became moot after Rutledge's decision late yesterday.

IMPORTANT CORRECTION: In cleaning up the casino proposal, drafters of the Drive Arkansas Forward measure have changed the tax revenue to go primarily to the general fund rather than the highway department, because of questions raised by Rutledge.  They say it's their intention that the legislature direct the money to highways. But there's no constitutional mandate that it do so. Many in the legislature would no doubt prefer to capture the gambling tax windfall for a tax break for rich people. It will make another campaign talking point should the measure reach the ballot.

For clarity: Here's a link to the recertification of the amendment with is final language that will be on petitions.

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