LITTLE ROCK — Secretary of State Mark Martin on Wednesday declared a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow casinos in four counties “not fair and complete,” complicating its already long-shot chances for making the November general election ballot.
The declaration, based on a recommendation by Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, said the proposal by Nancy Todd’s Poker Palace LLC, did not adequately explain an implied repeal of Act 1151 of 2005, which opened the door for electronic games of skill at racetracks in Hot Springs and West Memphis.
“If nothing else happens, going forward it will not be on the ballot,” Martin spokesman Alex Reed said.
Todd said she planned to meet with her attorneys to discuss the declaration and is still optimistic that the proposal would make the ballot.
Separately , she and her supporters have an Aug. 22 deadline to turn in 54,517 additional signatures to make up a deficiency in the number of valid signatures required to qualify for the ballot.
Meanwhile, the state Supreme Court has set Sept. 6 for oral arguments in a lawsuit over another proposed constitutional amendment that would give a Texas businessman exclusive right to operate casinos in seven counties, including Jefferson.
Michael Wasserman, who is spearheading the drive to put the measure on the November general election ballot, filed the lawsuit after Martin rejected the petitions his group submitted last month.
Chuck Lange with Stop Casinos Now, the group that petitioned the secretary of state to disqualify Todd’s proposal, said Wednesday he was pleased with Martin’s declaration.
“Arkansas voters deserved to know the truth about Vegas-insider Nancy Todd’s casino plan for our state,” Lange said. “Like most of her shadowy campaign, the ballot title she peddled kept Arkansans in the dark.”
In its challenge, filed with the secretary of state’s office in July, Stop Casinos Now argued the initiative was illegal and misleading.
Martin turned the challenge over to the attorney general’s office for review.
McDaniel, who initially certified the proposed amendment’s popular name and ballot title and name, said in a letter to Martin that the measure was as clear as it could be in most respects. But the attorney general acknowledged that he missed a potentially key point.
“On reflection, … it would have been advisable expressly to point out the amendment’s implied repeal of the EGS Act, which has, after all, resulted in the conduct of significant casino gaming activity at Oaklawn and Southland horse and dog race tracks,” McDaniel wrote.
“I cannot predict with certainty how the Arkansas Supreme Court might rule on a challenge based on this objection,” he said. “The court may indeed be convinced that the adoption of the Amendment would effect a change in law whose disclosure would have given a reasonable voter serious ground for reflection.”
The attorney general said that if Martin decided to declare the ballot title “insufficient on this ground, I believe a strong argument would be made in support of your action.”
The Electronic Games of Skill Act authorized local-option votes on whether to allow wagering on electronic games of skill to be conducted at Oaklawn Park thoroughbred track in Hot Springs and Southland Greyhound Park in West Memphis. Voters in those two cities later approved the expanded gaming proposal.
On July 6, the last day to turn in petitions on ballot proposals, Todd submitted 80,373 signatures to the secretary of state. She needed 78,333 valid signatures of registered voters to qualify for the ballot.
The secretary of state’s office counted the signatures and determined Todd was 54,517 signatures short and she was given 30 days make up the deficiency.
Last month, Martin ruled that Wasserman failed to submit a number of signatures of registered voters equal to at least 5 percent of the vote in the last gubernatorial election from each of at least 15 counties. Wasserman petitioned the state’s highest court to order Martin to allow him an additional 30 days to gather signatures.
The total number of signatures of registered voters needed to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot is 78,133.
The Supreme Court set the date for oral arguments in an order dated Wednesday. Also Wednesday, the court granted a motion by Arkansas Racing Alliance, a ballot committee backed by Oaklawn Park thoroughbred track in Hot Springs, to intervene in opposition to Wasserman’s proposal.