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Arkansas Group Submits 162K Signatures for Anti-Pope County Casino Amendment

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Ballot question committee Local Voters in Charge has submitted 162,181 signatures to Secretary of State John Thurston to place a proposed constitutional amendment on the November ballot that requires a countywide vote on any new casino built in a community.

The proposed amendment, The Local Voter Control of Gambling Amendment, requires that any new casino built in the state be approved in a countywide special election before a casino license can be issued.

This falls just days after the Arkansas Racing Commission voted unanimously to award the state’s fourth and final casino license to Cherokee Nation Entertainment, clearing the way for a casino in Pope County after years of legal fighting over the license. If enacted, the amendment would effectively nullify the recently issued license.

The petition, according to supporters, surpassed the 90,704-voter signature requirement to qualify for the ballot. Proposed amendments must also submit a specified minimum number of signatures from at least 50 of Arkansas’ 75 counties. The group said in a press release that it met this threshold in all 75 Arkansas counties.

“In record numbers, the people of Arkansas have supported our campaign to give local voters the final say on whether a casino should be built in their town or not,” said Local Voters in Charge committee member Hans Stiritz. “Some communities might want casinos, others might not, but nearly everyone agrees that it should be up to local voters to determine the character of the communities in which they live.”

Arkansans voted to allow casinos in four counties in 2018. The amendment was approved and received a majority vote in three of those counties; a majority of Pope County residents voted against the 2018 amendment. Since then, new casino facilities have been built at Southland in West Memphis and Oaklawn in Hot Springs. The Quapaw Nation also built a new gambling hall in Pine Bluff.

In the release, Local Voters in Charge said Pope County voters overwhelmingly rejected the 2018 proposal, but they still face having a casino in the community. The amendment would remove Pope County from that authorization and require any future casino be approved by local voters.

The ballot language and amendment form was approved by Attorney General Tim Griffin prior to circulation, so once sufficient signatures have been verified by Thurston, the amendment will be assigned a ballot issue number and formally placed on the general election ballot for November.

“Our amendment language was approved by the Attorney General and we have substantially exceeded the signature and county distribution requirements for ballot initiatives. The people of Arkansas have, by their signatures, demanded a vote on this issue,” Stiritz said in the release.

Opposing the amendment is Investing in Arkansas, a group formed in May and backed by Cherokee Nation Entertainment.

“While sufficient signatures may have been turned in, this group — solely backed by a rejected out-of-state casino operator, the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma — has spent the last several months lying to Arkansans about the true intent of this ballot initiative,” Natalie Ghidotti, Investing in Arkansas vice chairman, said in a statement. “This small group wants you to believe their efforts are about a local vote, but in reality it is about revoking the casino license from Pope County — a license awarded just last week by the state of Arkansas to Cherokee Nation Entertainment.”

In 2022, Fair Play Arkansas, a ballot question committee also funded by Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, failed to obtain enough signatures for a similar proposed amendment.

“Arkansas voters approved Amendment 100 in 2018, and a majority of Pope County voters still stand by that decision,” Ghidotti said. “This small group, funded by the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, is trying to rob Arkansans of thousands of jobs and shut down what will be historic economic growth for the community, region and state.”

Additional Initiatives

Led by Arkansans for Limited Government, the Arkansas Abortion Amendment announced that as of noon Friday, the amendment stands at 53 counties and more than 100,000 signatures from all 75 counties, which is enough to qualify for the November ballot.

If passed, the amendment would stop state government from being able to “prohibit, penalize, delay or restrict abortion services within 18 weeks of fertilization.” The amendment would also permit abortion services in cases of rape, incest, a fatal fetal anomaly or when “in a physician’s good-faith medical judgement, to protect a pregnant female’s life or to protect a pregnant female from a physical disorder, physical illness or physical injury.”

The Arkansas Citizens for Transparency group has also been gathering signatures for two proposed ballot measures: the Arkansas Government Disclosure Amendment and the Arkansas Government Disclosure Act.

The group announced Friday afternoon that it fell short of the signature threshold, but the Arkansas Press Association said it planned to try again for the 2026 ballot.

The disclosure amendment aims to create citizen access to government meetings, records and notices, establish the Arkansas legislature may not change any law that affects transparency without a two-thirds vote in the House and the Senate to refer the question to the vote of the people in the next General Election and to increase sanctions for those who willfully violate the rights protected by the amendment.

The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment submitted 111,402 signatures on Friday. The proposed amendment aims to improve patient access by allowing more health care professionals to certify patients for medical marijuana cards, conduct patient assessment through telemedicine and qualify patients based on medical need. If passed, the amendment would also allow patients and designated caregivers to grow up to seven mature marijuana plants and seven young plants.

The Arkansas Educational Rights Amendment, organized by For AR Kids, announced Friday that it had fallen short of the signature threshold.

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