Two amendments: eight counties and eight casinos
We are drawing closer to the next major event, November’s general election. In the short term, we will witness the start up and progression of numerous
campaigns – campaigns for elective office and campaigns for constitutional amendments. We will not involve ourselves with campaigns for elective office;
we have always and will continue to be nonpartisan. It is not our role to tell people who they should vote for.
Once the attorney general has approved the popular name and ballot title of those amendments, the sponsors for those measures will begin circulating petitions to gather the nearly 85,000 signatures of Arkansas registered voters necessary for the amendments to be certified for the general election ballot.
The sponsor of the first proposed amendment is a group calling itself the Driving Arkansas Forward committee. If certified for the ballot and approved by Arkansas voters, this measure will permit one casino each for Jefferson and Pope counties. In addition, it will award full-blown casino licenses to Oaklawn Park (horse racing track) in Hot Springs and to Southland Greyhound Park (dog racing) in West Memphis. Both tracks currently operate virtual casinos by offering euphemistically named “electronic games of skill.”
The second proposed amendment was recently filed by the Arkansas Wins 2018 group. If it makes the ballot and is adopted by voters, it will establish one casino in each of four counties: Benton, Boone, Miller and Pulaski. Both amendments will direct a portion of the net revenue derived from the gambling to a state highway fund; however, the funds will be negligible and the highway department has stated it does not want revenue from gambling sources nor does it wish to have anything to do with either proposal.
Both of these efforts are the real deal. The groups sponsoring and supporting them are very well funded. They have hired top notch law firms, public relations and advertising professionals, and will spend incredibly huge sums of money to pass their respective measures.
Consider this. The casino for Jefferson County that will be authorized by the Driving Arkansas Forward amendment is to be awarded to the Quapaw Indian tribe in Oklahoma. They have pledged to spend at least $300 million to construct a casino and hotel/entertainment center in Pine Bluff. Many of the others backing both amendments are out of state, wealthy and determined to carve Arkansas up economically for their own selfish interests. We are in for a long and difficult fight.
None of the casinos to be established pursuant to these amendments will be destination casinos, such as those in Las Vegas. They will be regional casinos and unlike destination casinos, most of their gamblers will be local. Because of that, the various problems associated with casino gambling will be concentrated in the communities around the casino sites. The social, economic and spiritual costs will have to be borne by those living and working in communities near the casinos. The crime, addiction and turbulent family life caused by the predatory gambling will be a significant burden on local residents. The casinos and associated enterprises will cannibalize existing businesses, raise unemployment, drain off essential sales tax and put stress on law enforcement and social service providers.
Please understand that as we have done so many times in the past, we will be among the leadership in opposing these gambling amendments. Our goal will be to inform, motivate, equip, coordinate and facilitate the efforts of our grass roots network, of which I trust you and your church will be key members. This strategy has worked in the past, and I believe it will again if we all will do our part.
Larry Page is executive director of the Arkansas Faith and Ethics Council, which receives some limited funds from the Arkansas Baptist State Convention. This article was originally appeared in Page's electronic newsletter, eNotes.