Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge has approved a ballot measure that, if passed by voters, would allow construction of four casinos, one of which would be located in Jefferson County.
A group called Driving Arkansas Forward is behind the casino proposal. They say 65 percent of the tax revenue generated would go toward the State Highway and Transportation Department fund to pay for road and bridge improvements.
Organizers of the proposal must collect 84,859 signatures by July 6 in order for the proposal to make the Nov. 6 ballot.
The measure also proposes a casino in Pope County while allowing casinos at the Oaklawn horse track in Hot Springs and at the Southland greyhound track in West Memphis. Both tracks already offer electronic “games of skill.”
In a news release, Rutledge’s office announced “that in light of the Arkansas Supreme Court’s decision in Couch v. Rutledge, she is certifying ballot titles for proposals to raise the minimum wage, authorize casino gaming, and revise the legislative redistricting process.”
Rutledge wrote in the release, “I have issued opinions on ballot proposals based on standards set forth in statutes as well as case law of the Arkansas Supreme Court. However, the Arkansas Supreme Court has once again muddied the waters on these standards by offering no insight in its decision requiring me to certify or substitute language of a ballot title that I had previously rejected. In light of the Arkansas Supreme Court’s failure to put forth clear standards, I am certifying these proposals in an exercise of caution to ensure Arkansans are given an opportunity to put these measures on the ballot.
“To be clear, (these) certifications do not prevent a citizen from legally challenging a ballot proposal once the required number of signatures are submitted to the Arkansas Secretary of State. Therefore, it is a real possibility that any one or all of the certified proposals will not appear on the ballot in November.
“The Arkansas Supreme Court’s failure to include clear standards and reasoning has only exacerbated the confusion surrounding ballot title submissions. As I stated last week, I am calling on the General Assembly to create a system ensuring Arkansans have a clear and fair process to amend the constitution and place initiatives on the ballot.”
Pine Bluff and Jefferson County officials joined members of the business community in early January to kick off the casino announcement. During a meeting at the Economic Development Alliance for Jefferson County, John Berrey, the Chief of the Quapaw Indian Tribe, laid out plans for the construction of a resort and casino in the county that would create 1,000 new jobs.
Berrey, whose tribe currently operates a casino in Oklahoma just across the border from Joplin, Missouri, cited the tribe’s history with Pine Bluff and Jefferson County, including the burial site for Chief Saracen, Saracen Lake and Saracen Landing.
“This is a chance to bring Pine Bluff back to its old self,” Berrey said. “It’s a big deal for the citizens of Pine Bluff and Jefferson County.”
Appearing with Berrey was Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington. Since she has been in office, Washington has talked about Pine Bluff being a “place of destination with the right partners to help achieve the goal.”
“I believe we can be partners,” she said.
More recently, the topic came up at a recent candidate forum, where Jefferson County Sheriff-elect said of the issue: “I’ve seen the shuttles leave here and go to casino’s out of state,” Woods said. “If it’s legal, why not have it here?”