LITTLE ROCK —A group backed by Oaklawn Park thoroughbred track argued Monday in a filing with the state Supreme Court that a proposal to allow casinos in four counties should be struck from the ballot because of flaws in the ballot question and in the signatures submitted to qualify it for the ballot.
The measure’s sponsor, professional poker player Nancy Todd, argued in a separate filing that the Arkansas Racing Alliance is simply making a last-minute effort to block her proposal.
Monday was the deadline for the parties to file briefs in the alliance’s lawsuit challenging Todd’s proposal, which would amend the state constitution to allow Nancy Todd’s Poker Palace and Entertainment Venues to operate casinos in Crittenden, Franklin, Miller and Pulaski Counties.
Secretary of State Mark Martin has ruled the ballot item legally insufficient but has certified it for the ballot while Todd appeals his decision to the Supreme Court in a separate lawsuit. Todd is an intervenor in the alliance’s lawsuit, which names Martin as the defendant.
In its brief submitted Monday, the alliance argued that the term "casino gambling" is not defined in the ballot question and is defined too broadly in the proposed constitutional amendment — so broadly that arcade games, pinball machines and games played at state and county fairs would fit into the definition.
The group also argued that the amendment would, by implication, allow only Todd’s company to operate electronic games of skill like those now played at Oaklawn in Hot Springs and Southland Greyhound Park in West Memphis, and that this is not made clear to voters in the ballot title.
"The undisclosed effect of the amendment on electronic games of skill is plainly material to the voters," the group said in its filing. "The racetracks at Hot Springs and West Memphis are popular and well-established franchises. Wagering on electronic games of skill generates revenue for state and local governments and provides additional benefits to horse racing and greyhound racing."
Todd has added a phrase to her ballot title that says it may repeal the Electronic Games of Skill Act, which allowed local elections to decide whether to permit electronic games of skill at the tracks. The alliance argued in its filing that the ballot title should not be certified because that phrase was not part of the language that was shown to voters during the signature-gathering phase.
The signature gathering also was flawed because some voters whose names appeared on petitions have said they did not sign the petitions, or that they did not sign them in the presence of a canvasser, as required by state law, the group argued.
The alliance also argued that the ballot title does not explain to voters that the casinos could extend credit to gamblers.
Todd argued in her filing that the ballot title is fair and complete and that the addition of the phrase regarding electronic games of skill was not a material change.
She also said her initial submission contained more than the minimum number of signatures required, so it was valid on its face, and that she submitted more than enough additional valid signatures after the secretary of state threw out a portion of the signatures from her first submission.
Todd also noted that the group Stop Casinos Now, which is chaired by former Arkansas Sheriffs Association Director Chuck Lange and funded by Southland, has already challenged her proposal.
"The petitioners’ complaint appears to be a thinly veiled attempt for Mr. Lange, Southland, Oaklawn and the petitioners to have a second chance at challenging the intervenors’ amendment at the eleventh hour," Todd said in her filing.
Martin rejected Todd’s ballot proposal because he said it did not adequately explain to voters what impact the amendment would have on electronic games of skill. He said in his filing Monday that he also agreed with the Arkansas Racing Alliance that the ballot question is materially different from the version that was circulated for signatures, but he did not agree that Todd failed to meet signature requirements.
The Supreme Court has said it will not hear oral arguments in the case. It heard oral arguments in Todd’s appeal on Sept. 13 and has not yet issued a ruling.
Last week the court ruled that Texas businessman Michael Wasserman could not have more time to collect signatures for a rejected proposal to allow casinos in seven counties.