Suit filed to remove casino amendment from the ballot | Arkansas Blog

Monday, September 10, 2018

Suit filed to remove casino amendment from the ballot

Posted By on Mon, Sep 10, 2018 at 12:25 PM

click to enlarge casino.jpg
Four of the five state ballot issues now face court challenges with a new lawsuit today seeking removal of the casino expansion amendment.

A group called Ensuring Arkansas's Future, with plaintiffs from Garland, Jefferson, Crittienden and Pope County, have sued to disqualify the initiative to allow casinos in Pope and Jefferson Counties and to expand gambling at existing casinos in at racetracks in Crittenden and Garland counties.

Scott Trotter of Little Rock is lawyer for the group and plaintiffs Kenneth Carney of Hot Springs, a Nazarene preacher and husband of former Mayor Ruth Carney, a longtime gambling foe; Judith Stiritz of Pope County; Billy Wheeler of Crittenden County, and Bobby Gene Smith of Jefferson County.

Here's the lawsuit.

That makes lawsuits against: Issue One, the tort reform amendment referred by the legislature, recently invalidated by a circuit judge, and against a minimum wage and term limits increase. The challenges to the latter two include questions about the petition canvassing process and whether paid canvassers met all the new requirements of a law imposing such things as background checks, residency requirements and other technicalities.

The casino amendment lawsuit does not raise a petition challenge. Instead, it only challenges the ballot title and amendment as misleading or incomplete. Among others, while the amendment guarantees casino licenses for the Southland gambling operation in West Memphis and the Oaklawn racetrack, it does not name them in the text of the amendment nor provide for succession should current licensees sell their businesses. The amendment also could lead voters to believe the state Racing Commission is required to issue four casino licenses, when it may not choose to do so. There are many other questions, including the failure of the amendment to say what happens—  should either racetrack stop racing dogs or horses — to money dedicated to racing purses.

The suit names Secretary of State Mark Martin, who oversees elections. Driving Arkansas Forward, a group mainly funded by Indian tribes hoping to land casino licenses, is pushing the amendment and likely will intervene in the lawsuit.

UPDATE: Nate Steel, speaking for the casino campaign, issued this statement:
We see this for what it is: An effort to circumvent our state’s initiative process and the will of 100,000 Arkansans who signed petitions to get this issue on the ballot. This lawsuit is not only meritless, but disingenuous, as evidenced by the fact that the attorney for this group, Mr. Trotter, contacted our campaign on multiple occasions during the certification process in support of the amendment. We believe the Attorney General was diligent and correct in reviewing this ballot title, and we have no doubt that it will withstand this legal challenge.
Scott Trotter responded:

I disagree with the statement.

I recall having one phone conversation in May with counsel Alex Gray, telling him that while I would be against the casino proposal as I understood it from press reports, I was troubled that the Attorney General was consistently rejecting so many popular names and ballot titles on multiple initiative proposals dealing with different issues. I said that if there was a court hearing dealing with the AG’s many rejections of multiple proposals on different issues, then I would consider being a witness as to the importance of the Attorney General’s office in successfully revising and approving ballot titles and popular names. I indicated that as a witness I might recount my own experiences on ballot title submittals. I did not discuss with Mr. Gray the substance of the proposed casino amendment or its popular name and ballot title, which at the time of the conversation I had not read. I had no role in the drafting of the casino proposal or its popular name and ballot title. 

As for serving as counsel for the petitioners who have brought the lawsuit, I have committed to not charging them or anyone else fees for my own time spent on the case.

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