The coalition formed to oppose a proposed constitutional amendment to legalize four casinos in Arkansas has filed a legal action to disqualify the amendment.
The secretary of state’s office is currently checking some 80,000 signatures submitted by Nancy Todd for the amendment to see if enough were registered voters to meet the threshold to be certified for the ballot.
But the group goes beyond that process by challenging the legality of the amendment itself. The counting continues, however, and the secretary of state said it would refer the challenge of the content of the measure to the attorney general for further response. Here’s the summary:
The Stop Casinos Now! Committee filed a challenge against Nancy Todd’s proposed constitutional amendment Monday, saying, in part, her proposal is illegal and misleading.
The filing states that Todd’s attempt to change Arkansas’s Constitution would create an unregulated casino monopoly in the state, which is illegal under federal law.
Also, the filing states the ballot title and popular name of Todd’s casino amendment are misleading for several reasons, including the fact that while she names only four counties into which she plans to force casinos — Crittenden, Franklin, Miller, and Pulaski — each of Arkansas’s 75 counties will be opened up for a casino.
“Las Vegas casino insider Nancy Todd is proposing to set up an unregulated casino monopoly that is highly illegal,” said Chuck Lange, chair of the Stop Casinos Now! Committee and former head of the Arkansas Sheriff’s Association. “It turns out her plans are far worse than we originally thought, she’s not proposing just four casinos, she wants to bring 75 casinos to Arkansas, one for every county.”
“We’ve forced Nancy Todd to show her hand. With the revelations in today’s challenge, her plan to change our constitution has gone from bad to worse,” Lange continued. “Arkansans deserve to know the truth about Nancy Todd’s real plans to build casinos in our state.”
The filing was submitted with the Arkansas Secretary of State’s office by Wright, Lindsey & Jennings, LLP.
The committee includes public officials and others. It is being backed financially by owners of the casino at the Southland dog track in West Memphis.
Todd said she and her attorneys would have to read the complaint before commenting fully. But she issued a statement saying she wasn’t surprised by the opposition. Her statement said, in part:
“This group brings special interest to a whole new level. Their only goal seems to be to make sure the people of Arkansas do not have a right to vote on this important issue. The citizens didn’t get to vote on the tracks, their expansion, their taxes, their influence or any decisions they have made which have greatly impacted the people of Arkansas.”
Todd went on to state “I find it ironic we only get a challenge when we get our signatures approved for submission in the Secretary of State’s office. If there were such big issues with our Amendment one would think they would have been brought out when we first filed.”
UPDATE: I learned by chance that today’s challenge is the SECOND. An earlier petition filed June 21 by Elizabeth Williams of 3700 John Barrow Road also complained that the ballot title was unfair and misleading, particularly in allocating tax money without appropriation by the legislature.
Here’s the legal pleading filed today with the secretary of state to disqualify the amendment because of flaws in the ballot name and popular title. I’ll be checking with the secretary of state, but you can bank this is a decision that will not be final until it has been considered by a court. The petition says, among others, that an unregulated monopoly is not legal under federal antitrust law. The amendment says only Nancy Todd can conduct casino gambling in Arkansas. This amendment repeals, without adequate notice to voters, the Arkansas constitution’s rule on monopolies and perpetuity, the complaint said.
I’ve talked some previously with Todd, the political consultant who’s leading the casino drive for Branson, Mo., investors about this criticism. She contended that the amendment, despite restrictive language and opinions such as the one expressed in the brief, DOES allow for some state regulation. She has argued she’s not a monopoly because her amendment would not disturb operation of the state’s two existing casinos at Oaklawn and Southland. These operations exist under a legisative scheme that deems their casino games “electronic games of skill,” even though they are virtually indistinguishable from regular casino games except in using video screens rather than cards and such. But the legal challenge contends the amendment, by its definition of what games are covered, would nullify this law and allow her to shut down those competitors. (Editor’s editorial comment: This, it seems to me, is a tacit admission of the obvious. Those are casinos in Hot Springs and West Memphis, no matter what the operators want to call them.) But, the challenge says, the loss of these is an important thing of which voters should be made explicitly aware, particularly the loss of millions in gambling taxes for local and state governments.