LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A proposal to legalize casinos in three Arkansas counties was approved for the November ballot on Thursday, with critics warning the move would allow a private company to give itself a constitutionally protected gambling monopoly in the state.
Secretary of State Mark Martin’s office said supporters of the proposed constitutional amendment turned in 100,977 valid signatures from registered voters. The measure needed at least 84,859 signatures to qualify for the ballot.
The proposal would legalize casinos in Boone, Miller and Washington counties for three companies owned by supporters of the amendment. The companies would have the right to transfer the licenses for the casinos. The group behind the initiative has touted the proposal as a way to boost tourism and jobs for the state.
“We’re excited that Arkansans will have the opportunity to vote on this important amendment this November,” Robert Coon, a spokesman for the group, Arkansas Wins in 2016.
Arkansas Wins announced earlier this year it had struck a deal with Cherokee Nation Entertainment to run the Washington County casino if voters approve the measure. The group has not announced similar deals for the casinos in the other two counties.
Jerry Cox, head of the conservative Family Council Action Committee, said the measure would take away local voters’ rights to decide whether they want expanded gambling in their communities.
“Even if every voter in these cities opposes the casinos, they could still be built if the amendment passes in the statewide vote this November,” Cox said in a statement.
Arkansas already has electronic gambling such as video poker and blackjack at a Hot Springs horse track and a West Memphis dog track. Arkansas voters in 2008 also approved a lottery to raise money for college scholarships, and the state began selling tickets the following year.
Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson also opposes the casino measure and said Thursday he doesn’t think the state needs any more gambling. Hutchinson said he was concerned about the proposal writing a private company into the constitution.
“Even if you were going to casino gambling in Arkansas, this is not the means to accomplish it,” Hutchinson told reporters.
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