Here we go again. A group calling itself Driving Arkansas Forward announced yesterday afternoon that it is launching an effort to push for a constitutional amendment to allow three casinos to be built in the state. The first would be in Jefferson County*, then one would be in Crittenden County, and the third and final casino would be in either Miller, Mississippi, Pope, Union or White County.
The group filed the proposal with Attorney General Leslie Rutledge on Friday and will now await certification of the proposed popular name and ballot title. If certified, the amendment would need to collect around 85,000 signatures of registered voters by July to make it on the ballot in November.
The amendment would allocate 65 percent of casino tax revenues to the state’s Highway and Transportation Department Fund to pay for improvements to the state’s roads and bridges. The rest of the tax revenues would go to the city and county where each casino is located.
The casino licenses would be issued by the Arkansas Lottery Division of the state’s Department of Finance and Administration via a “merit-based selection method.” Local leaders from the casino locations would have to approve. At least $100 million must be invested in each casino.
Driving Arkansas Forward claims that the allotted tax revenues from the casinos would bring in an additional $45 million per year for highway funding.
Former Democratic state legislator Nate Steel is serving as counsel for Driving Arkansas Forward (former Democratic state legislator Marshall Wright and current state Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson are part of the same firm representing the group). Lobbyist Don Tilton is the chairman of the group’s committee — he also represents the Quapaw tribe, which would likely apply to build a casino in Jefferson County.
In the group’s press release, Steel stated:
Our highway system must be a priority if Arkansas wants to remain competitive nationally and provide the best economic opportunities to our residents. This amendment focuses on highway funding while creating a fair, transparent and merit-based process for issuing gaming licenses. We can no longer afford to lose potential gaming revenue to surrounding states when we have the opportunity to keep that money here and create jobs in communities that need them.
This proposed amendment could be the shot in the arm we need to help meet infrastructure needs statewide and to improve economic conditions in places like Jefferson and Crittenden counties. This proposal addresses the deficiencies of previous casino proposals. It gives local leaders a voice in the process and makes sure there’s a level playing field for everyone involved.
*A previous version of this post mistakenly reported that the proposal would first put a casino in Crittenden County.