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Arkansas casino legalization measure votes will be counted

October 11, 2018

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled Thursday that votes cast in November on a proposed casino legalization ballot initiative should be counted, dismissing two lawsuits which sought to block the count because of claims the wording is misleading and ambiguous in several areas.

In two rulings, Arkansas’ highest court said the proposal’s text was clear and did not mislead voters.

The proposed amendment, known as Issue 4, would allow the Arkansas Racing Commission to issue casino licenses at a Hot Springs horse track and at a West Memphis dog track, both of which currently offer electronic gambling. It also would legalize casinos in Jefferson and Pope counties.

The lawsuits claimed that many parts of both the ballot title and the ballot text are ambiguous or unclear and had asked for votes not to be counted. For example, one lawsuit argued the ballot text misleads voters “as to whether local officials can approve casinos” and whether citizens “lose oversight of unlimited free alcohol.” The other lawsuit also raises multiple issues, saying in part the ballot title makes it seem that four casino licenses must be issued, “leaving no room for the Arkansas Racing Commission to decline.”

The court disagreed on nearly every count, writing that, “the popular name and ballot title of Issue No. 4 give voters a fair understanding of the issues presented and the scope and significance of the proposed changes in the law.” The court said voters should be able to make an intelligent and informed decision based on the text.

Justice Jo Hart dissented in part from one ruling, saying the language was misleading enough to strike the issue from the ballot.

The group behind the measure, Driving Arkansas Forward, said it was “grateful” for the court’s decision.

“We are confident Arkansans will vote to keep casino entertainment dollars in our state when they cast their ballots,” said Nate Steel, counsel for the group.

Christopher Burks, lawyer for Citizens for Local Choice which challenged the amendment in one suit, said the ruling was disappointing because he believed the court mischaracterized arguments against casinos. He said it’s now up to local and state voters to reject the casino amendment.

“It’s unfortunate the Supreme Court reached an outcome favored by rich folks and lobbyists, but we’re confident that the people of Arkansas will make a decision in their best interest,” Burks said.

Two Native American tribes in Oklahoma have each donated more than $1 million to the pro-casino campaign, which has blanketed the state with television ads touting the potential benefits of the expanded gambling initiative.

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