Casinos in Arkansas are non-existent. But there is casino style gambling available. Two pari-mutuel facilities, West Memphis Southland Greyhound Park and Oaklawn Park Horse Racing, feature slots and poker games. The state seems ready for brick and mortar casinos and the issue was to be determined by Arkansas voters on a November ballot.
However, thanks to the Arkansas Supreme Court, Arkansas will not see casino gambling anytime soon, as the court has removed the casino issue from the November ballot. Issue 5 was a ballot question that would amend the state constitution to approve construction of three brick and mortar casinos. The casinos were proposed to be located in three different counties. Boone County was one of the locations, and was strategically chosen because of its location just across the state line from Branson, Missouri, a popular tourist mecca. The casino location would undoubtedly benefit from Missouri tourists crossing the state line to gamble in Arkansas.
The Supreme Court’s disqualification of Issue 5 by a 3-1 vote was because it didn’t clarify for voters that voting ‘yes’ would put the state in conflict with federal law. Although including specific language in Issue 5 authorizing the operation of the three casinos, additional language defining “gaming” was not as specific and was determined by the court to be vague. The language the court took exception to was: “accepting wagers on sporting events, including, without limiting the generality of the foregoing, any game, divide, or type of wagering permitted at a casino [in any of seven different states, including Nevada] as of Nov. 8, 2016.
The Court also addressed the fact that the federal law known as the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) restricts single-game sports betting only to Nevada but also allowed a mild form of sports lottery wagering for Delaware, Montana and Oregon. Associate Justice Karen Barker, who wrote the Court’s opinion, said that Arkansas voters are “entitled to a ballot title that is honest, impartial and intelligible and will give them a fair understanding of the issues presented.”
It’s no surprise that the lawsuit challenging the language in Issue 5 was presented by the state’s two pari-mutuel facilities, the Southland Park greyhound track in West Memphis and the Oaklawn Park horseracing track in Hot Springs. The Center for Public Integrity reported that the Oaklawn/Southland coalition called the Protect Arkansas Values/Stop Casinos Now laid out more than $1.2 million on advertising. The group supporting the casino initiative, called Arkansas Wins in 2016, spent over $1 million. The figures do not include money spent on cable television advertising.