Posted on: August 9, 2022, 11:29h. 

Last updated on: August 9, 2022, 01:09h.

An Arkansas casino referendum effort that wanted to reask voters about where commercial gambling is permitted has been rejected by Secretary of State John Thurston.

Arkansas casino referendum Pope County
Fair Play for Arkansas representatives review their canvassing materials with Secretary of State John Thurston’s office in early July 2022. Thurston said the Arkansas casino referendum committee this week failed to meet the required signatures necessary to place the gaming question on the November 2022 ballot. (Image: Public Policy Center)

Fair Play for Arkansas is a political action committee that wants to repeal the state’s designation of Pope County being permitted to house a casino. Voters during the 2018 November election passed Issue 4 — a ballot question that authorized a single gaming property each in the counties of Crittenden, Garland, Pope, and Jefferson.

Pope County was one of only 11 counties that rejected the 2018 gaming referendum. Fair Play for Arkansas believes Pope voters should not be forced to live in a community with a casino.

But upon review of the submitted signatures, Thurston’s office said Fair Play was far short of the necessary threshold to force another gaming referendum.

Short on Signatures

Arkansas state law requires that a citizen-initiated referendum obtain at least 10% of the votes cast for governor in the state’s most recent gubernatorial election. For 2022, that number is 89,151 signatures from state residents.

Fair Play claimed last month that it submitted more than 103,000 signatures from state residents to Thurston’s office for confirmation. But the secretary says many of those John Hancocks were not admissible.

Worse yet for the referendum is that Thurston says the committee failed to reach the state threshold for the “cure period” that provides political groups an additional 30 days to procure the needed signatures. The “cure period” is 75% of the 89,151 required signatures — or 66,864 qualified endorsements.

In a letter to Fair Play, Thurston says his office could only validate 62,859 signatures. As a result, the ballot effort has been rejected.

“The petition submitted on behalf of Fair Play for Arkansas is deemed insufficient and does not qualify for correction or amendment,” Thurston said.

The decision comes after years of legal challenges and allegations of interference among the Arkansas Racing Commission. The allegations arose during its review of casino applications for the Pope County opportunity. The Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma was awarded the gaming concession in November of last year.

Win for Legends Casino

The Cherokees were a major financier of the 2018 Arkansas casino referendum. The tribe, through its gaming subsidiary Cherokee Nation Businesses (CNB), has partnered with Legends Hospitality to develop a $250 million casino resort. It would be located in Pope County’s Russellville and called Legends Resort & Casino.

Legends Hospitality is owned by Dallas Cowboys billionaire and Arkansas native Jerry Jones. Originally founded in a partnership with the late New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, Legends is primarily a hospitality provider at professional sports stadiums and entertainment venues.

Fair Play’s ballot referendum loss is Legends’ win.

“Voters were well-informed on the ballot initiative and its effects prior to being approached by canvassers. Our grassroots and digital voter education efforts led many to decline to sign Fair Play’s petition, ultimately resulting in its failure to get the measure on the ballot,” commented David Couch, CNB attorney.

Fair Play said it is reviewing the information from Thurston before making “a determination regarding any further efforts toward the November ballot.”