Let there be no doubt about the driving force behind the proposed constitutional amendment to legalize casinos in Boone, Washington and Miller Counties, all to be licensed to the group backing the amendment.
The latest financial report for Arkansas Winning Initiative Inc., a group formed to pass the amendment, shows a $1 million contribution from Cherokee Nation Businesses LLC of Tahlequah, an established casino operator in Oklahoma. It had previously been announced that the Cherokee Nation had an agreement with Missouri and Arkansas business people pushing the amendment to operate a casino in Washington County should the amendment be approved.
The secretary of state is currently counting to see if the group has sufficient signatures of registered voters to qualify for the ballot. I’m still expecting a challenge of the effort from existing gambling businesses in Arkansas — the Southland casino in West Memphis and the Oaklawn casino in Hot Springs. Both are currently the only legal gambling halls in Arkassas on account of the law’s permitting only for businesses that also offer parimutuel gambling (on dogs at Southland and horses at Oaklawn).
The financial report showed $40,000 contributed by Arkansas Gaming and Resorts of Branson, Mo., and $7,400 from Arkansas Wins in 2016, an earlier iteration of the group formed for the measure.
The group reported $467,000 in spending on the most recent report, most for the petition drive using paid canvassers, but also for legal fees and a political consultant.
This effort suggests an easier route to a casino in Little Rock for, say, the Quapaw tribe, which operates casinos in other states and owns a significant piece of undeveloped land near the Little Rock Port. Little Rock business and political establishment types — working to protect Oaklawn Park — have raised various obstacles to future use of the Quapaw land, though its current zoning allows anything from a rendering plant to a casino. The Quapaw need not worry about tribal recognition, federal reservation status or any of the rest. If voters like the idea of controlled expansion of casinos, just put a casino amendment on the ballot for a single megacasino resort in Little Rock, with dedicated tax proceeds to something popular (if you believe Asa Hutchinson, tax cuts for the rich would be a good place to start).