LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday disqualified a proposal to legalize casinos in three counties from the November ballot, ordering officials to not count any votes cast for the measure in the election.
Justices sided with opponents of the proposed constitutional amendment, which would have given three private companies rights to run the casinos in Boone, Miller and Washington counties. The companies are owned by supporters of the ballot measure, and they would have been able to transfer their licenses to other firms.
The high court ruled that the ballot title did not inform Arkansas voters that the measure would violate a federal law prohibiting sports gambling in the state.
“The ballot title in this case does not honestly and accurately reflect what is contained in the proposed amendment,” the court said in its ruling.
The lawsuit challenging the measure was filed by a group funded by a Hot Springs horse track and a West Memphis greyhound track, both of which offer video poker and other forms of electronic gambling. The lawsuit alleged that the proposal was misleading to voters.
“We hope that this sends a signal to others who would attempt to write special rights for themselves into the Arkansas Constitution,” said Chuck Lange, chairman of Protect Arkansas Values/Stop Casinos Now, the group that sued over the measure.
Arkansas Wins in 2016, the group behind the casinos proposal, had cast it as a way to boost tourism and create jobs in the state. The group earlier this year struck a deal with Cherokee Nation Entertainment to run the Washington County casino if voters approved the measure. The Cherokee Nation donated more than $1.4 million to the casino campaign, which had been running television ads statewide touting the proposal. Arkansas Wins earlier this week released a report projecting the casinos would generate $122 million annually in new tax revenue and create thousands of new jobs.
“Most importantly, it’s a shame that the voters of Arkansas, including the more than 100,000 that signed our petitions, are being denied the opportunity to vote on an amendment that would create thousands of jobs and more than $120 million in new tax revenue for the state and local communities,” Robert Coon, a spokesman for the group, said.
The high court ruled that no votes would be counted for the measure in the Nov. 8 election. Justices did not rule on a portion of the lawsuit that claimed thousands of signatures submitted for the proposal should have been invalidated because the group didn’t comply with reporting requirements for paid canvassers.
The measure also faced opposition from Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who said he didn’t think the state needed any more gambling. In addition to the race tracks, Arkansas also has a lottery that funds college scholarships and bingo by some charitable organizations.
The ruling comes the same day that data released by the Center for Public Integrity showed that supporters and opponents of the casino measure have spent more than $2 million to air television ads on the issue. The figures don’t include spending on radio, online or local cable advertising, or money spent on making the ads.
Associated Press Writer Jill Zeman Bleed contributed to this report
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