Arkansas Voters Won’t Decide On Casino Expansion In Their State This Fall

Posted on August 12, 2020 - Last Updated on August 24, 2020

It already looked like a long shot, but the subject of Arkansas casino expansion is now officially dead for this year. A legal challenge against a decision not to put the issue to state voters is done.

That doesn’t mean the question of whether the state will ever authorize more brick-and-mortar casinos has a definitive answer. It merely signals interested parties need to wait.

Why Arkansas casino expansion won’t be on the ballot this year

Earlier this year, Arkansas Secretary of State John Thurston opted not to certify the petitions for casino expansion that Arkansas Wins In 2020 filed with his office. That prompted the group to file suit against Thurston, asking the Arkansas Supreme Court to force Thurston to do so.

Last week, the group dropped its suit. That eliminated the slight chance it had to get its proposal on the ballot for voters statewide in November.

The group started circulating its petitions in June. State law says that such petitions with at least 89,151 signatures from registered voters in the state trigger a ballot measure of this type.

The measure, with voter approval, would have amended the state constitution. The specific language would have expanded the available number of casino licenses in the state by 16, taking the number of casinos in the state to as many as 20.

The group sent petitions with signatures nearing 98,000 in number to Thurston’s office on July 6. On July 14, however, Thurston refused to certify several of the petitions, because he determined the canvassers who collected them failed a federal criminal background check.

Without those signatures, Thurston stated the measure didn’t reach the threshold. The suit against Thurston did have some initial success.

The state Supreme Court appointed a special master to review the dispute, and ordered Thurston to continue verifying signatures. Eventually, however, the lack of time before the election forced the group to drop the issue.

Good signs for a second attempt from the group

There is good news for the group in this situation if it should want to try again in future years. Namely, the broad support for expanding casino access around the state.

Gathering nearly 98,000 signatures around the state from registered voters is no small undertaking. It requires a lot of funding, labor hours and other resources.

On top of the group having the necessary resources to fuel the signature drive, the group was able to secure more than the necessary number of signatures in just about a month’s time. That suggests the same contingent of voters could lend their support to a later petition.

Additionally, those are both good signs for supporting an actual ballot measure. Funding to support the referendum and voter approval will obviously be key.

By dropping its lawsuit, the group has extra time to make certain its canvassers will pass any background checks for another attempt. That may lead to more success, and more Arkansas casinos, in the coming years.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Kansas City, Mo. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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