LITTLE ROCK — Secretary of State Mark Martin declared a proposal to authorize casino gambling in four Arkansas counties unfit for the November general election Wednesday, just hours after its sponsor submitted more than 100,000 additional signatures to qualify for the ballot.
Martin said Nancy Todd did not adequately clear up a deficiency in the wording of her proposed constitutional amendment that led him to initially declare it to be not fair and complete.
Last week, Todd submitted new proposed language for the measure to make clear it would not affect electronic games of skill operations at Oaklawn Park thoroughbred track in Hot Springs and Southland Greyhound Park in West Memphis. Martin had said, after consulting with Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, that the ballot title was legally insufficient because it did not make that point clear.
Wednesday, Martin said Todd’s attempt to amend the ballot title "continues to be legally insufficient."
"At this moment, it will not be on the ballot," Martin spokesman Alex Reed said Wednesday afternoon.
However, Reed noted Arkansas Code 7-5-204, a provision of the law that authorizes inclusion of an initiative on the ballot if it is being tried in the courts at the deadline for ballot certification. The secretary of state is scheduled to certify ballot measures for the Nov. 6 ballot on Thursday.
"I don’t think it’s accurate and I don’t think its fair, but I will pursue my legal option," Todd said Wednesday in reaction to Martin’s declaration. "Either way this came down, we were headed to the Supreme Court. I’m ready for it. There are no surprises here."
Wednesday was the deadline for Todd to provide enough signatures to meet the 78,133-signature threshold for her proposed constitutional amendment to qualify for the Nov. 6 general election ballot. Backers turned in more than 80,000 signatures a month ago but 56,000 of them were invalidated.
Todd said she submitted 121,503 additional signatures Wednesday. She said she was confident that enough of them would be validated to place the measure on the ballot.
"I’d say history has been made today," she told reporters at the Capitol before Martin announced his ruling.
Two ballot committees, Stop Casinos Now! and the Arkansas Racing Alliance, have been formed to oppose Todd’s proposal and another proposed constitutional amendment by Texas businessman Michael Wasserman that would allow casino gambling in seven Arkansas counties.
Ultimately, "it’ll be up to the court to decide" Reed said.
Todd, who moved to Little Rock from Las Vegas earlier this year, said that for the second round of signature gathering she hired canvassers who "know how to ask the questions, know how to look on their smartphone to make sure that these people are registered to vote."
She said that when the canvassers learned someone was not registered, they would give the person a voter registration form.
"I’d say we registered between 11,000 and 15,000 people," she said.
Todd’s proposal would allow Nancy Todd’s Poker Palace to operate casinos in Crittenden, Franklin, Miller and Pulaski counties.
Wasserman’s proposal would allow Arkansas Hotels and Entertainment to operate casinos in Boone, Crittenden, Garland, Jefferson, Miller, Pulaski and Sebastian counties. Martin has rejected that proposal because of insufficient signatures, a ruling that Wasserman is appealing to the state Supreme Court.