A group whose chairman is a Pine Bluff pastor is asking Arkansas’ highest court to disqualify a ballot measure that would legalize four casinos in the state.
Ensuring Arkansas’ Future filed a lawsuit Monday with the state Supreme Court challenging the proposed constitutional amendment, which election officials approved to appear on the November ballot. The proposal would legalize casinos at a Hot Springs horse track and a West Memphis dog track that already have video poker and other forms of electronic gambling. It would also allow casinos in Jefferson and Pope counties.
Ensuring Arkansas’ Future, chaired by Derick Easter, pastor of the New St. Hurricane Church in Pine Bluff, is a group that was formed to oppose and campaign against the casino measure.
The lawsuit claims, among other things, that the text of the proposed amendment is unclear and misleading on several issues.
“The petition is insufficient because the ballot title fails to convey an intelligible idea of the scope and impact of the proposed Amendment, is materially misleading to the voters, and omits material information that is essential for a fair understanding of the Amendment…,” according to the suit.
“Based on the foregoing insufficiencies in the popular name and ballot title, the initiative petition containing the proposed Amendment is not entitled to be initiated pursuant to Amendment 7 and should be removed from the general election ballot, or in the alternative, Respondent should be enjoined from canvassing or certifying any ballots cast for the Amendment.”
The suit also notes that the “ballot title fails to disclose … that casino licensees shall not be subject to Ark. Code Ann. 3-3-211, which prohibits the sale of intoxicating liquor on Christmas Day, and that Arkansas laws involving the distribution and sale of intoxicating liquor shall not apply to casino licensees if those laws conflict with the Amendment.”
Little Rock Attorney Scott Trotter, who is representing Ensuring Arkansas’ Future, said Monday that voters should know about the aforementioned part of the amendment before casting their ballots.
“It’s a time-honored tradition,” Trotter said of the prohibition of alcohol sales on Christmas Day.
Easter said he doesn’t support a casino coming to Jefferson County.
“One, I think that the industry as a whole targets those who can least afford to lose their income,” he said. “I also do not think that casinos are a profit to communities. That is the main focus. Casinos don’t revive local communities, they act as parasites upon those communities.”
Driving Arkansas Forward, the group campaigning for the pro-casino measure, has raised more than $2.2 million. Nearly all of the money raised has come from the Quapaw and Cherokee tribes in neighboring Oklahoma. The group called the lawsuit an effort to circumvent the initiative process and the voters who signed petitions to get the measure on the ballot.
“We believe the attorney general was diligent and correct in reviewing this ballot title, and we have no doubt that it will withstand this legal challenge,” Nate Steel, the group’s counsel, said in a statement.
The lawsuit is among several pending before the state’s high court over ballot measures. Justices are also considering challenges to ballot measures that would raise the state’s minimum wage, impose stricter term limits on Arkansas legislators and cap damages awarded in civil lawsuits.
Editor’s Note: The Commercial is planning a more in-depth look at this issue in the coming days.