The Arkansas Racing Commission, which regulates casino gambling, is holding a public hearing today on rules for expanded casino gambling in the state. Most of the talk is about Pope County. UPDATE: The proposed rules were adopted as written.
Amendment 100 firmed up the legality of existing casinos at Southland and Oaklawn parks and made it clear they may have pure, not merely electronic casino games, and add sports bookmaking too. The amendment also opened the door to casinos in Jefferson and Pope counties.
Jefferson County is on board with a plan for a Quapaw casino. Lots of people are interested in Pope County, but people in Pope County have, in two votes, indicated they aren’t interested in casinos. A Mississippi group is trying anyway. Next-door neighbors in Johnson County are busy today telling the Racing Commission they’d be happy to take Pope County’s place.
Lawyers differ on the matter, but I think it’s a rocky road to legislative fiddling with this constitutional amendment. Voters approved a casino in Pope County. Can the legislature change it to Johnson County? I don’t think the Racing Commission can, which raises the question of why all the Johnson County people turned up today. Meanwhile, there’s the matter of local politician approval. The Racing Commission seems likely to approve a rule that says approval from local officials must come AFTER a casino application is made. None has been made yet. That would seem to negate the surreptitious approval a Mississippi casino group that lined up letters from lame-duck officials in Pope County who left office at the end of the year.
I’ll try to keep tabs on where today’s hearing heads.
Reminder: A key legislator says he doesn’t think the legislature can change the casino amendment.
There is also pitched disagreement whether a constitutional amendment, even an initiated one, can be altered by the legislature. And, even if it can, by a two-thirds vote, it must be to fulfill purpose the amendment. How could putting a casino in Johnson County fulfill the “purpose” of putting one in Pope County? That’s why the lawyers get the big bucks. So Rep. Aaron Pilkington and everyone else can talk all they want about the legislature changing this or that, but it is easier said than done. A lawsuit will be necessary to determine if they can do ANYTHING about this amendment.
UPDATE: The commission ultimately adopted the rules proposals as drafted. That negates the lame-duck official ploy in Pope County and ignores requests for changes in sports betting or delays in adoption. Much talk of legislative action and lawsuits to come.