Casino gambling won’t be coming to the state of Arkansas anytime soon, thanks to the state Supreme Court.
Arkansas voters who head to the polls this November were expecting to face a ballot question (Issue 5) on whether to amend the state constitution to permit the opening of three standalone casinos in three different counties, including Boone County, which is just across the state line from the tourist mecca of Branson, Missouri.
But on Thursday, the state Supreme Court handed down a 3-1 ruling disqualifying Issue 5 because it didn’t clarify that voting ‘yes’ would put the state in conflict with federal law.
In addition to language authorizing the operation of three casinos, Issue 5 also defined ‘gaming’ with a very broad brush, including “accepting wagers on sporting events, including, without limiting the generality of the foregoing, any game, divide, or type of wagering permitted at a casino [in any of seven different states, including Nevada] as of Nov. 8, 2016.”
The Court pointed out that the federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) restricts single-game sports betting to Nevada, while allowing tepid sports lottery wagering in Delaware, Montana and Oregon. But no form of sports betting is allowed in Arkansas, at least, not the legal kind.
The Court’s opinion, written by Associate Justice Karen Barker, states that Arkansas voters are “entitled to a ballot title that is honest, impartial and intelligible and will give them a fair understanding of the issues presented.”
The lawsuit challenging Issue 5’s language was brought by the companies that run the state’s two electronic gaming facilities, the Southland Park greyhound track in West Memphis and the Oaklawn Park horseracing track in Hot Springs.
Issue 5 had been supported by a group known as Arkansas Wins in 2016, whose principal members include the companies that hoped to receive the new casino licenses. The group has five days in which to ask the Court for a rehearing.