Least surprising news of the day: The Southland casino owners in West Memphis have put $50,000 into the campaign to pass the casino expansion amendment on the November ballot. To date, Indian casino corporations have provided most of the financial support.
I’ve said from the start that Southland backed the amendment. It’s very simple:
* The current tax rate on the casinos at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs and Southland is 18 percent of net wagering revenue. The casino expansion amendment — which would legalize two more casinos in Jefferson and Pope Counties — would cut the rate to 13 percent. That cut, at current gambling levels, would cut the combined tax take at Oaklawn and Southland by $36 million a year in each of the next two fiscal years and almost $14 million in the third year. That’s $86 million in added profits for Southland and Oaklawn over three years.
* The amendment would legalize pure casino gambling, now carried on under the electronic games of skill artifice which is legally dubious under the state Constitution’s anti-lottery provision. (It takes skill to play those slots, we’ve been assured by racetrack casino operators.)
* The amendment would legalize sports bookmaking.
* The amendment would likely save Southland. As it stands, casinos are allowed in Arkansas only where parimutuel wagering on horses and dogs is allowed. That means a casino duopoly for Oaklawn (horses) and Southland (dogs). But dog racing is dying, both because of a lack of interest and pressure from humane groups. It is illegal in 40 states and operating in only six. If dog racing died, Southland’s casino most likely couldn’t operate under the current law.
For Southland, then, the amendment is a win-win-win-win.
PS: Oaklawn Park is said to be officially “neutral” on the casino proposal. Don’t believe it. Neutrality equals support. Oaklawn has spent heavily in legal fees and otherwise to kill previous casino proposals. If it wanted to kill this one, it would have
Casino amendment backers say not to worry about tax loss projections. When the two new casinos eventually come online in a few years, tax revenue will grow, plus new jobs are coming in construction and future operations. And they say tax revenue also will grow from expanded gambling at Oaklawn and Southland. It will have to grow powerfully to recoup $86 million lost over the next three years.
That revenue reduction is also a lick into the cushion the governor is trying to accumulate to give the wealthy an income tax break.
Another question not yet raised or answered in this debate is whether legalization of casino gambling at four sites in Arkansas would contribute to a legal argument for more Indian casinos on tribal trust lands in the state. It’s an intricate legal question for the future.