Ark. court rejects casino measure for Nov. ballot
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday rejected a proposed ballot measure that would have given a professional poker player the exclusive rights to operate casinos in four counties.
Nancy Todd's proposed constitutional amendment seeking exclusive rights to run casinos in Pulaski, Miller, Franklin and Crittenden counties will appear on the November ballot, but the court ruled that any votes cast for or against it will not count.
Election officials rejected the proposed ballot measure after determining that it didn't tell voters it would prohibit electronic gambling at a horse track in Hot Springs and a dog track in West Memphis. Todd had revised the language of her proposal to say it may repeal the law that allows the tracks to offer video poker, blackjack and other electronic "games of skill."
The high court ruled in favor of Arkansas Racing Alliance, a campaign funded by Oaklawn Jockey Club, which challenged the wording of Todd's proposal and the validity of the petition signatures she submitted to get it on the ballot.
The court ruled Thursday that the signatures were invalid because Todd revised the wording of her proposal after gathering them.
"While we sympathize with (Todd's) view that the revision was ostensibly made as part of a collaboration with respondent and the attorney general, the fact remains that (Todd) altered the text of their ballot measure even though all of their signatures were gathered under a different ballot title," the court said.
Todd, a political consultant who moved her family from Las Vegas to Arkansas as she campaigned for the proposal, said she was disappointed with the ruling. Todd said she didn't know if she would try to put a similar proposal on the ballot in 2014.
"I really don't know what I could have done differently," Todd said. "That's my challenge in the next few months to figure out how it could have worked."
Elizabeth Robben Murray, an attorney for the Arkansas Racing Alliance, said she was pleased with the decision.
"I think it was the most logical holding that could be reached," Murray said. "You can't change ballot titles after you've circulated a petition with a materially different ballot title to collect signatures."
Todd sued after the state invalidated her proposed ballot measure, and the court dismissed the lawsuit Thursday, finding it moot.
An attorney for Todd told the court last month that the state had turned the initiative process into an "obstacle course" by rejecting the language of her proposal. The state has argued that Todd's revised amendment language that says it "may" repeal the games would confuse voters even more.
Justices did not address complaints that the wording of Todd's proposal was insufficient, or claims that she submitted invalid signatures. The alliance argued that Todd's proposal defined casino gambling so broadly that it would include some types of pinball machines and state fair games.
Todd's proposal had been the target of a high-profile and expensive campaign funded by the tracks that included thousands of direct-mail pieces, radio ads and a banner flown over a music festival urging Arkansans to not sign petitions. Southland, the West Memphis dog track, spent more than $894,000 on its Stop Casinos Now campaign against the casino amendment. Oaklawn contributed $80,000 to the Arkansas Racing Alliance.
Arkansas Development, a group formed to support Todd's proposal and funded primarily by Missouri investors, spent more than $913,000 to campaign and gather signatures for Todd's proposal.
The proposal also faced opposition from the state's top leaders, including Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe and lawmakers from both parties.
"I never liked it anyway because it kind of gave some exclusivity to out of state folks," Beebe told reporters Thursday. "And it wasn't being sold that way to a lot of people."
The ruling means that election officials won't count votes for two casino legalization proposals that will be on the Nov. 6 ballot. Last month, the justices ended a Texas businessman's competing bid to get a casino rights question on the ballot, rejecting his request for more time to gather the requisite petition signatures. Michael Wasserman's proposal would have given him the exclusive rights to operate casinos in seven Arkansas counties.
Andrew DeMillo can be reached at www.twitter.com/ademillo