The Arkansas Supreme Court today ordered that no votes be counted for the Nancy Todd casino amendment. It was certified for the November election with an amendment to the ballot title that said it could be interpreted as affecting existing casinos at Oaklawn and Southland Parks.
The Supreme Court said that language was added after signatures were gathered and thus petition signers didn’t approve a vote on the measure certified by Secretary of State Mark Martin. The backers of the casino have said objections to the title had left them with no choice but to add the language and that it was immaterial in terms of the original proposal. The Court reduced the case to this:
Although the case raises at least four separate issues, the primary question presented is whether a sponsor of an initiated amendment may attach one ballot title to her petition and then ask respondent to certify another. We hold that she may not.
The Court declined to issue an advisory opinion on the question that put this all in play — whether the original ballot title was sufficient. The Court said in a separate opinion that that issue became moot when Martin certified the amended proposal.
Nancy Todd issued this statement:
Today’s announcement is disappointing. More than 200,000 Arkansans signed our petition and thousands more understand this is about keeping our money in Arkansas and creating more than 6,000 good paying jobs in the state. A track full of moneyed insiders fought me every inch of the way and while they may have “won” today, it’s the people of Arkansas who have lost in the long run.
Issue 3 would provide Arkansas with real benefits: secure jobs and funding for our schools, senior citzens, veterans,
job training and the Children’s Hospital. While today’s decision means votes cast for Issue 3 will not count, I will continue talking about the importance of keeping our money in Arkansas and creating good paying jobs.
Here’s the main opinion. Groups tied to existing racinos had mounted opposition to the proposal, which would have given a group of Missouri investors sole rights to establish casinos in four counties under a plan with scant legislative control. That group issued a statement:
Chuck Lange, Chairman of the Stop Casinos Now! Committee on today’s ruling by the Arkansas Supreme Court:
“On behalf of the law enforcement, faith, community and political leaders that joined our campaign to stop Nancy Todd’s casino monopoly in Arkansas, I would like to say thank you to those who stood up to protect our families and communities from the terrible realities that would have come from Todd’s Vegas-style Poker Palace monopoly. We hope that all investigations into questionable signature gathering efforts possibly conducted by Todd’s paid team will be completed in an effort to prevent further actions like those from occurring.”
It sounds like the casino backers outsmarted themselves. They should have challenged Martin’s refusal of their original ballot title as insufficient, a title that had been approved initially by the attorney general. He later changed his mind. Their effort to comply with questions was their undoing, at least in today’s opinion. This puts an end to multiple efforts to put gambling expansion on the ballot this year. (Actually, the Todd casino measure will appear on ballots, but votes won’t be counted.) The casino backers have five days to seek a rehearing, rarely granted particularly in the case of opinions joined by all justices.