Gamblers who go to Shreveport, Tunica or Las Vegas to play games of chance could soon stay home in the Natural State to get lucky.
Issue 4 on the November ballot would authorize four casinos and sports betting in Arkansas, expanding operations at Oaklawn and Southland and creating licenses for two new facilities in the state’s remaining quadrants, Jefferson and Pope counties.
“Real dealers, real chips, all those kinds of things,” said Nate Steel, the legal counsel for Driving Arkansas Forward. “One of the reasons we restricted it to two licenses was to make sure that these were substantial, resort-style tourist attractions.”
Steel said the locations were based on economic need and population, subject to authorization by the county judge and mayor.
Driving Arkansas Forward has estimated the casinos would initially give back about $66 million a year to the state, $33 million to the cities and counties where they are located and $25 million to Oaklawn and Southland. The Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration has argued the state would actually receive less.
Oaklawn and Southland have not taken a position on the proposal. The governor and conservative group, Family Council, have come out against it.
“We already have casinos here in Arkansas,” said Jerry Cox, the founder and president of Family Council. “Everybody knows we have one in Hot Springs and one in West Memphis. I think many people believe that’s enough.”
Amid two pending legal challenges, Steel bets the measure is on the ballot.
“We haven’t seen any arguments in those challenges that are a real threat,” he said.
Since sports betting became legal nationally, the proposal would authorize it in Arkansas. However, it would still be subject to regulation by state lawmakers and the racing commission.
A similar casino measure was last on the ballot in 2000.