Proposed amendment could raise US$45M for state roads
The Driving Arkansas Forward initiative, a citizen’s private group, has proposed a constitutional amendment that would authorize the state to issue licenses for up to three casinos in Arkansas, with most of the taxes on gambling profits going to roads. The ballot question committee estimated that the proposed amendment could raise about US$45 million more a year for the state Department of Transportation.
Attorney Alex Gray, who represents Driving Arkansas Forward, filed the proposal with Republican Attorney General Leslie Rutledge’s office las Friday (05) and asked her to certify the proposed amendment’s popular name and ballot title. Gray’s law partners are former state Reps. Nate Steel, D-Nashville, and Marshall Wright, D-Forrest City, and current state Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, R-Little Rock. Hutchinson is a nephew of Gov. Asa Hutchinson.
Under Arkansas state law, the attorney general is required to certify a popular name and ballot title for a proposed amendment before the sponsor can begin circulating petitions to qualify the proposal for the November general election ballot. A sponsor of a proposed amendment is required to turn in 84,859 valid signatures of registered voters by July 6, according to the secretary of state’s office.
Under the proposal, the casinos would be approved by a proposed Lottery Division in the Department of Finance and Administration. The division would be limited to issuing casino licenses to applicants in Crawford, Crittenden, Jefferson, Miller, Mississippi, Pope, Union or White counties. No more than one license would be issued in a county.
In a press release, Drive Arkansas Forward said that: “The amendment would authorize the division to issue the first license to an applicant to place a casino in Jefferson County; a subsequent license for a casino in Crittenden County; and a third license in a remaining county.
The lottery division would issue casino licenses through “a merit-based selection method,” with approval from municipal or county leaders, Drive Arkansas Forward said. At least US$100 million must be invested in each casino under the proposal.
US$300M investment by Quapaw
Quapaw Tribe Chairman John Berrey, was quick off the mark on news of the proposed amendment, and said the tribe would apply for a casino license in Jefferson County envisioning investing roughly US$300 million in a destination hotel and casino that would employ more than 1,000 Arkansans and be similar to the tribe’s hotel and casino in northeast Oklahoma near Quapaw.
The Quapaw tribe wants to improve the economy of Jefferson County that’s in “dire straits,” and Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington and Hank Wilkins, county judge of Jefferson County, support the proposed project, Berrey said. The casino would be a commercial casino regulated and taxed by the state, and not regulated under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, he said.
The proposed amendment would make each casino’s annual net gaming receipts subject to a 12 percent tax. Under the proposal, 65 percent of the tax revenue would to go to the state Department of Transportation fund, from which the department uses 70 percent of the funds, and cities and counties each split a 15 percent share; 10 percent to the county in which the casino is located; 22.5 percent to the city or town in which the casino is located; and 2.5 percent to the Lottery Division. If the casino is not in a city or town, then that 22.5 percent would go the county in which it is located. (E-01.09.18)