As Arkansas casinos work to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, they might soon face the challenge of a much more crowded market too. The possibility of several new Arkansas casinos is on the horizon.
An activist group in the state is pushing a petition to get its measure on the ballot for AR voters this fall. If the referendum is successful, it could lead to unprecedented gambling expansion in the state.
The push for new Arkansas casinos
AR voters should be familiar with the process undertaken by this new group, Arkansas Wins In 2020 Inc. Less than two years ago, Natural State voters approved the casino referendum that authorized the state’s existing gaming facilities.
Arkansas Wins’ new constitutional amendment proposal would be the largest expansion of legal gambling in the state’s history. It would authorize the AR Racing Commission to issue up to 16 more casino licenses.
At full strength, that would bring the number of gaming facilities in the state up to 20. The proposal includes specific locations and companies for potential casinos. Those are:
- Benton County, G-First Ark Gaming LLC
- Boone County, Boone County Gaming LLC
- Chicot County, Lake Village Gaming Associates LLC
- Crittenden County, one for West Memphis 1 Gaming Associates LLC and another for West Memphis 2 Gaming Associates LLC
- Garland County, Garland County Gaming Associates LLC
- Greene County, ASC Transaction Facility LLC
- Jefferson County, Pine Bluff Gaming Associates LLC
- Johnson County, Clarksville Gaming Associates LLC
- Miller County, Texarkana Gaming Associates LLC
- Nevada County, Prescott Gaming Associates LLC
- Pulaski County, one for Little Rock 1 Gaming Associates LLC and another for Little Rock 2 Gaming Associates LLC
- Sebastian County, Fort Smith Gaming Associates LLC
- St. Francis County, Forrest City Gaming LLC
- Washington County, Fayetteville Gaming Associates Inc
The amendment proposal also includes specific language for how the state would tax gambling revenue. As in most states with legal gambling, it’s a graduated tax.
The measure levies a 13% tax rate on the first $150 million of annual aggregate revenue, then ups that rate to 20% for all revenue above that $150 million threshold. The state treasury would get 55% of the tax proceeds, with the other 45% divided between AR cities and counties.
The path forward for the casino amendment proposal
According to AR Secretary of State John Thurston’s office, the group has until July 3 to get at least 89,151 signatures from registered voters in the state. If Thurston certifies the petition drive by that date, the referendum will appear on the ballot statewide on Nov. 3.
The proposal would then need a simple majority of the voting bloc in the state to become law. It’s unclear how soon after passage the ARC would start approving new licenses.
Although it’s currently unclear exactly who is behind Arkansas Wins, what’s obvious is that getting those votes might require some serious cash. The group that sponsored the 2018 ballot measure spent nearly $10 million advocating its cause.
The proximity of the proposal in terms of time to the last gambling expansion measure is interesting. That isn’t the only way in which proximity is relevant, however.
Arkansas still needs to award existing casino licenses
One of the other interesting aspects of the new proposal is the fact that the state’s current allotment of casinos isn’t full. The 2018 amendment gave the ARC leave to issue up to four licenses.
While the Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort in Hot Springs and Southland Casino Racing in West Memphis are up and running, the dreams of gaming properties in Jefferson and Pope counties remain unfulfilled. Construction is ongoing for Saracen Casino Resort in Pine Bluff, part of Jefferson County.
The new amendment would put a competing casino in the same county as Oaklawn. Crittenden County, where Southland lies, would become home to three such facilities.
For a county with an estimated population of less than 50,000, concerns about market saturation in Crittenden County could prove well-founded. Crittenden County is just across the state line from Memphis, TN, however. Supporting 20 casinos may require AR’s gaming facilities to pull guests from southwestern Tennessee regularly. They could also be competition for Tunica, MS.
If Arkansas Wins fails to get its petition certified in time or the ballot measure fails in November, that will prove a moot point. If the group is successful, Arkansans and Tennesseans may have many more choices for casino gaming in the near future.