Arkansas casino vote could impact OK

The argument that Oklahoma’s 117-plus casinos are pulling in tourists from Arkansas could take a hit if that state legalizes casino gambling in three counties.

The targeted counties are Washington County, which borders Oklahoma in northwestern Arkansas; Boone County, which borders Missouri in northwestern Arkansas (near Branson, Missouri) and Miller County in the southwest corner of the state near Oklahoma, Texas and Louisiana. Fayetteville is in Washington County, Harrison is in Boone County and Texarkana is in Miller County.

An amendment to amend the state constitution to approve gambling in those three counties will be voted on in Arkansas on November 8. According to arkansaswins2016.com, if approved, three new casinos will pay an 18 percent tax to the state, .5 percent to each county and 1.5 to each city. That would result in “tens of millions of dollars in new tax revenues” for “roads and education.”

“We are opposing this amendment because it is a bad deal for Arkansas,” Chuck Lange, chairman of Protect Arkansas’ Values — Stop Casinos Now and former president of the Arkansas Sheriffs’ Association, said in a written statement. “No state has ever allowed something this outrageous.”

Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he opposes the proposed amendment.

“I don’t think that is what we need to expand tourism in the Natural State,” he told reporters. “I think we have some great venues for electronic games of skill in Arkansas now, horse racing. That’s our tradition. That’s our history.

“Even if you were going to have casino gambling in Arkansas, this is not the means to accomplish it, whereby you have a ballot initiative that designates … three locations, that gives basically a monopoly to an out-of-state company to designate who is going have those operations.”

A study by the Economic Impact Group showed that passage would generate $122 million in annual tax revenue for Arkansas and create 3,400 construction jobs.

The casinos would be operated in Boone County by Arkansas Gaming and Resorts LLC, in Miller County by Miller County Gaming LLC, and in Washington County by Washington County Gaming LLC, their respective successors or whomever they assign their licenses to, under the proposed amendment.

Cherokee Nation Entertainment — the Cherokee Nation’s wholly owned corporate entity — will be involved in the proposed casino in Washington County if voters approve the amendment. The Cherokee Nation has a casino in West Siloam Springs, Oklahoma, on the border of Oklahoma and Arkansas about 30 miles from Fayetteville.

The proposed amendment would define casino gambling as including any game, device or type of wagering permitted at a casino operated within Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, Oklahoma, Tennessee or Texas as of Nov. 8 or “as subsequently permitted hereafter.”

Oklahoma casinos, especially those on the Arkansas border, draw gamblers from Arkansas and passage of the amendment would adversely affect casinos near the Arkansas and Missouri borders.

“If voters want to see casino gaming in Arkansas, and want jobs, tourism and tax revenues to return to Arkansas from our surrounding states, then, they should vote for Issue 5. Our amendment would bring competition to an already restrictive gaming industry, giving Arkansans more gaming and entertainment choices,” said Robert Coon, spokesman for the Arkansas Wins in 2016.

While state law doesn’t allow for stand-alone casinos, it permits electronic “games of skill” at two racetracks, Oaklawn Racing and Gaming in Hot Springs and Southland Park Gaming and Racing in West Memphis, Arkansas. Gambling at those facilities is subject to regulation by the Arkansas Racing Commission. Arkansas, like Oklahoma, also runs a state lottery.

Meanwhile, while unemployment rises and state revenues drop in Oklahoma, gambling revenues for state government rose 3 percent in the 2015-16 fiscal year.

The tribes paid Oklahoma $132 million out of an estimated $2,200,000,000.00 that was spent on gambling in that period. The amount the previous year was $113.5 million to the state. Most of that money goes to education, mental health services and the state’s general fund.

According to a report by the Oklahoma Gaming Compliance, the Cherokee Tribe paid $15,290,046 and the Muscogee (Creek) Nation paid $8,531,353 in 2015-16. The Osage Tribe paid $5,775,990.