Legal ads in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette today reflect optimism that federal Judge P.K. Holmes’ ruling last week easing ballot petitioning restrictions because of coronavirus will provide a pathway to successful drives.

This morning the notices included the drive I mentioned earlier to legalize 16 casinos in Arkansas by an as-yet-unidentified group of financial backers. Little Rock lawyer David Couch has also published his idea of an open primary with ranked-choice voting. It is being sponsored by Arkansas Voters First, the same group pushing a proposed amendment to establish a nonpartisan legislative and congressional districting commission.

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Arkansas Voters First can double up on its website with ways for people to download sign petitions to mail in, without the requirement for witnessing of signatures and a notarized statement from a canvasser.

Interesting, too, is the emergence of an amendment to strip Pope County from the amendment that expanded casino gambling in 2018. Jefferson County would be unaffected, as would the existing casinos in Hot Springs and West Memphis. But Pope County, where controversy still rages, would be stripped out. I’m trying to reach some of those who’ve been involved in the long fight against casinos there.

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Note: This is probably unrelated to a group, Protect Arkansas Communities, incorporated this year to fight new gambling proposals. It was funded with an initial $400,000 from the three existing casinos in Arkansas.

UPDATE: Anna Stiritz, a lawyer who’s been active in casino opposition, confirms the roots of the proposal to de-legalize a casino in Pope County.

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That’s our group, made up of members from Citizens for a Better Pope County. Our ballot question committee is called Fair Play for Arkansas.. Totally grassroots, and we’ve been fighting it since Amendment 100 went to the ballot. We intend to release a statement to the press tomorrow.

Jim Knight of Russellville leads Fair Play, which hasn’t yet made a financial disclosure.

June 18, the state Racing Commission is to hear an evaluation of competing Pope County casino permit applications from a Mississippi group and the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. Various legal challenges continue by casino foes.

Pro-marijuana legalization groups also have restarted efforts on account of Holmes’ decision.

It’s still a heavy lift. Constitutional amendment campaigns must gather more than 89,000 signatures of registered voters, with significant hauls in several counties, by July 3.

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Couch has expressed optimism about his well-funded campaign. It had almost $1.4 million on hand on May 15. It has received $1.8 million from the Action Now Initiative of Houston.