Arkansas Court Rightfully Leaves Casino Decision Up To Voters

Written By Martin Derbyshire on October 12, 2018 - Last Updated on November 24, 2021
Arkansas casino voter referendum

The Arkansas Supreme Court made the wise decision this week to uphold democracy and keep a referendum on gambling expansion on the November midterm election ballot.

It doesn’t really matter if you agree the Hot Springs horse track and West Memphis dog track with electronic gambling should be turned into full-fledged casinos. Or, if you think two more casino licenses should be issued in the state’s Jefferson and Pope counties.

This issue is about whether or not voters should have the right to decide the state’s fate in terms of gambling expansion. The state’s highest court is now saying they should.

An attack on democracy

Arkansas anti-gambling zealots, made up mostly of conservative family and religious organizations, argue gambling has a negative effect on the communities it inhabits.

They claim places with casinos have higher divorce rates, higher bankruptcy rates, more crime, and more people addicted to gambling, putting a further strain on social services.

However, these groups haven’t provided much proof of this. Nor have they used whatever proof they have to campaign against gambling expansion in the Natural State.

Instead, they filed a pair of lawsuits claiming the wording of the question in the referendum is misleading and ambiguous. The groups’ goal was to get the question removed from the ballot altogether.

In other words, instead of convincing voters to say no to casino expansion in Arkansas, they tried to circumvent the referendum process to stop voters from having a say at all.

It was a bold tactic that turned out to be more of an attack on democracy than casino gambling. In the end, it failed.

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Leaving casinos up to voters

Like several US states, in order to expand gambling in Arkansas, the state constitution needs to change. Of course, that can’t happen without a referendum. Ultimately, that means it’s up to voters to decide the future scope and size of the local gambling industry.

Putting decisions of this magnitude in the hands of the people they affect is the right thing to do. The people of Arkansas should have the right to decide how many casinos there are. If they don’t want them, so be it. If they do, the state shouldn’t be able to stand in the way on moral, or any other, grounds.

Even more states are moving towards this model. The future of Florida gambling will become clearer in November when a ballot measure will ask if future gambling expansion proposals should go to referendum. On the surface, this will make it more difficult for casinos to move in. However, it also puts such decisions where they truly belong — in the hands of voters. Plus, it makes sure no casino will ever go where it isn’t wanted.

Keeping the money at home

Gambling expansion proponents in Arkansas say turning two gaming facilities into casinos and opening up two more will create:

  • Up to 6,000 jobs
  • $5.8 billion in GDP growth over the next decade
  • Close to $40 million a year in state and local tax revenue.

For them, its a question of keeping the money in Arkansas, or letting it continue to move to Mississippi. That’s where they say an estimated 30 percent of Arkansas residents go to gamble. In fact, the Mississippi Gaming Commission says approximately 1.149 million people from Arkansas visited Mississippi casinos over the past year.

Gambling expansion proponents are confident Arkansas will vote to keep the money at home. However, they must also be thankful the courts have ensured voters’ ability to decide for themselves. After all, it’s the democratic thing to do.

Photo by  Joseph Sohm /

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Martin Derbyshire

Martin Derbyshire has more than ten years of experience reporting on the poker, online gambling, and land-based casino industries for a variety of publications including Bluff Magazine, PokerNews, and PokerListings. He has traveled extensively, attending tournaments and interviewing major players in the gambling world.

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