NORTHWEST ARKANSAS, Ark. (KFTA) — Arkansans will soon decide if four casino licenses will be issued throughout the state.
Voting ‘Yes’ on Issue four would support the initiative to authorize four casino licenses in Arkansas.
Those casinos would be built in Crittenden, Garland, Pope and Jefferson counties.
Of those four licenses, two would automatically go to Southland racing in West Memphis and Oaklawn Jockey Club in Hot Springs.
Two Native American businesses have expressed interest in applying for the other two licenses near Russellville and Pine Bluff.
“This is the first time that Arkansas has ever had the opportunity for a fair, merit-based casino measure that provides for local control,” Alex Gray with Driving Arkansas Forward said.
If approved, ballot issue number four would grant Southland and Oaklawn automatic licenses to conduct casino gaming.
Others that are interested would need to submit applications and follow additional requirements.
“If this amendment passes it will be a $5.8 billion economic impact to the state of Arkansas in the next 10 years.There will be $800 millions of private investment into the state for the casino locations,” Gray said.
Gray says if this amendment passe, it could create an estimated 6,000 jobs.
His organization is leading the campaign in support of this initiative.
The Cherokee Nation, which also supports the casino measure, agrees the economic impact, including tourism and entertainment options, would be vast.
“Within the Cherokee Nations, which are the Northeast Oklahoma 14 counties, we had over a $2 billion economic impact annually. It’s in the form of jobs, its in the form of goods, and services within the trade area,” Chuck Garrett, Executive Vice President of Cherokee Nation Businesses said.
Under this measure, casinos would be subject to a tax rate of 13% to 20% on net gaming receipts.
Campaign ads from Driving Arkansas Forward claim that revenue would go towards better roads.
Danny Straessle with the Arkansas Department of Transportation says these ads may be misleading.
“Quite simply, it does not fund the state highway transportation fund. The money goes into the state’s general fund,” Straessle said.
A closer look of the bill shows all revenue is split between the Arkansas General Revenue Fund, the Arkansas Racing Commission, and the city and county the casino calls home.
But opponents like Pastor Tom Hatley with Immanuel Baptist Church Global Outreach Center says the social costs would be a different story.
“It’s addicting enough to a significant number of people that it causes damage. Some people when they’re addicted to gambling, they will use their household money and their rent money, and they’ll end up destitute and dependent on others. Some people will turn to crime and to get more money so they can gamble again,” Hatley said.
Hatley argues casinos could target people with financial difficulties.
“Arkansas will only get a small percentage of the gambling receipts compared to what other casinos have to give up. So, this is really a bill to make four people rich and everybody else poor,” Hatley said.
Full statement from ArDOT:
A proposed Constitutional amendment regarding casino gambling in Arkansas is currently in the process of obtaining certification that would allow it to appear on the ballot in the November 2018 general election. The proposed amendment would allow additional casinos to be opened in Arkansas.
The Highway Commission has no position on gambling in Arkansas – that is up to the people to decide should the issue be certified for the ballot. However, the Commission believes the citizens need to have a clear understanding of the proposal. Specifically, citizens need to understand that the proposal does not direct any of the revenue to be generated from the casinos to our state’s highways, despite what some of the promotional ads are implying.
This proposal is being promoted by a group calling itself Driving Arkansas Forward. They continue to use language and promotional materials that are leading people to believe that the proposed amendment would provide much needed new funding for our state’s highways. That is simply not the case. Of the tax revenue estimated to be generated from the casinos, more than half (55%) is being directed to the state’s General Fund. None is being directed to the state’s highway fund.
Again, the Highway Commission has no position on gambling in Arkansas. But the citizens who will decide need to make their decision based on facts. The fact is, the proposed Constitutional amendment regarding casino gambling is not a highway funding proposal.
Statement from Nate Steel, counsel for Driving Arkansas Forward, in response to ARDOT:
This attack on a citizens’ ballot proposal by a state agency is unprecedented, unfair and inaccurate. All of us recognize that our roads need more funding, and we have always made clear this ballot measure would be one part of what should be a larger solution to improving our highways and our economy. When approximately 30 percent of Arkansans acknowledge regularly leaving the state for casino gaming, Driving Arkansas Forward understands the importance of keeping those tax dollars in Arkansas.
Driving Arkansas Forward advertisements cite facts and make clear these additional tax revenues could be used for roads and highways, and it is the organization’s primary goal to make sure our policymakers dedicate more money for highways. We believe that if voters pass Issue 4, they will be sending a signal to lawmakers that increased road funding should be a priority for the revenue generated by the amendment.
Issue 4 would enable the state to fund roads through economic growth, increased tourism and investing our dollars right here in our own state. We are confident voters recognize that, and we are disappointed the Arkansas Department of Transportation does not.