Push to remove Pope County as casino site on ballot gets 103,000 signatures, backers say

Supporters of a proposed constitutional amendment that would remove Pope County as the site of a casino said they filed about 103,000 signatures of registered voters on Friday in an attempt to qualify their proposed measure for the ballot. general elections on November 8.

James Knight, chairman of the Fair Play for Arkansas 2022 committee, certified in an affidavit that the committee filed 20,913 petition pieces containing 103,096 signatures from registered voters at the secretary of state’s office late Friday afternoon. .

To qualify a proposed constitutional amendment for ballot, a ballot committee must collect the signatures of at least 89,151 valid registered voters, or 10% of the votes cast for Governor in the 2018 general election, and at least the minimum number required signatures from each of at least 15 counties.

Hans Stiritz, spokesman for the Fair Play for Arkansas 2022 committee, said “obviously we are delighted with the results.”

He said committee officials didn’t have a good idea what the secretary of state’s office would determine about the validity rate of signatures, “but we’re optimistic we’ll at least have enough for processing.” . [period].”

To benefit from the 30-day cure period to collect more signatures, a voting committee is required to deliver petitions with at least 75% of the required 89,151 signatures of registered voters and 75% of the required minimum number of signatures of registered voters. at least 15 counties.

Stiritz said canvassers will continue to collect signatures in the coming weeks, in anticipation of multiple legal challenges.

But David Couch, an attorney representing Cherokee Nation businesses and the Arkansas Tourism Alliance, said he doubts the Fair Play for Arkansas 2022 committee qualifies for the 30-day cure period to gather more signatures from registered voters.

“Given the historical validity rate of petitions in the State of Arkansas, as well as the population of registered voters … they will not meet the minimum number required to initiate petitions,” Couch said in a statement. writing.

“Furthermore, a mountain of evidence exists to dispute significant irregularities relating to Fair Play signature collection efforts, including canvassers’ gross misrepresentation of the purpose of the ballot petition, the employment of individuals with criminal history and improper notarization of petitions,” he said.

“We remain optimistic and will continue the fight to keep the Constitutional Amendment approved by voters in 2018 intact, preserving billions of dollars in tax revenue and thousands of well-paying jobs in the state of Arkansas,” he said. Couch said.

Stiritz said in a press release that the Fair Play for Arkansas 2022 committee has called on the state to investigate the Arkansas Tourism Alliance committee for potential petition fraud.

“Our Canvassers have been subjected to assault, physical intimidation, harassment and other threats,” he said.

Through the end of May, the Fair Play for Arkansas 2022 committee reported raising $2.1 million in contributions and spending $1.8 million, leaving a balance of $253,365.48 as of May 31. .

The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma donated $2.1 million to the Fair Play for Arkansas 2022 committee, according to the committee’s report.

Through the end of May, the Arkansas Tourism Alliance voting committee said it had raised $1.28 million and spent $1.1 million, leaving a balance of $171,036.64 on 31 may.

According to the committee’s report, Oklahoma-based Cherokee Nation businesses contributed $1.28 million to the Arkansas Tourism Alliance committee.

Amendment 100 to the Arkansas Constitution — approved by voters in November 2018 — authorizes the state’s Racing Commission to issue four casino licenses.

Licenses are authorized to expand gaming operations at Oaklawn Racing and Gaming in Hot Springs and Southland Casino Racing in West Memphis, and for casinos in Jefferson and Pope counties with local authority approval. The amendment also opened the door to sports betting in casinos. Under a 2005 state law, Oaklawn and Southland had previously operated electronic skill games.

Casinos currently operate in Hot Springs, Pine Bluff and West Memphis.

In November, the Pope County Casino license was given to Cherokee Nation Businesses to build Legends Resort & Casino after the Arkansas Racing Commission decided to revoke the license previously granted to Gulfside Casino Partnership.

The Pope County casino license has long been a source of trouble for the county and the state, resulting in numerous lawsuits.

“Our best recourse was to have Pope County removed from the amendment, and that’s what this is about,” Stiritz said.

A casino in Pope County has potentially huge social and economic impacts for families and the community, he said.

But Couch said “that’s not the point.”

“I don’t think the effects of the casino in Garland County, Crittenden County, or Jefferson County were any different than they had when they didn’t have a casino there,” a- he declared.

“What really matters is that the Choctaw are funding this campaign. [to remove Pope County as a casino site] and the Choctaws have a casino in Pocola, Oklahoma…and the Choctaws applied for the license [in Pope County] and they didn’t get it…so it’s about keeping the casino from being in Russellville,” Couch said.

The Cherokees plan to build the Legends Resort & Casino near Russellville, off Hob Knob Road, northeast of downtown Russellville.

Cherokee Nation Businesses has been granted 140 acres for development, said Allison Burum, spokeswoman for Cherokee Nation Businesses.

Cherokee Nation businesses are continuing to acquire land and will proceed with construction after they receive the necessary permits and after all outstanding disputes are resolved, she said.

“On Monday, July 11, we will present the large-scale development plan to the Russellville Planning Commission for review and early approval,” Burum said in a written statement.

Friday was the deadline for polling commissions to deliver signatures of registered voters to the secretary of state’s office to qualify their proposed ballot measures for the November general election ballot.

Earlier Friday, the Responsible Growth Arkansas committee returned what its supporters said were about 192,000 signatures from registered voters in its bid to qualify its proposed constitutional amendment for the ballot.

The proposed amendment would allow the state to issue adult-use cannabis cultivation and dispensary licenses to businesses that already hold licenses under the state’s medical marijuana program, followed by 40 additional licenses chosen by a lottery.

Three proposed constitutional amendments are already expected to be on the general election ballot after the Republican-dominated Legislature in the 2021 regular session returned three proposals to voters.

One of the proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot is Joint House Resolution 1005 by Rep. David Ray, R-Maumelle, which would require a 60% vote of voters rather than a majority vote for the measures. proposed votes.

A second proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot is Joint Senate Resolution 10 by Senator Breanne Davis, R-Russellville, which would allow the General Assembly to meet in special session by a joint written proclamation from the Speaker of the House. and of the President of the Senate pro tempore or by depositing the signatures of two-thirds of the members of the 35-member Senate and the 100-member House of Representatives.

Lawmakers would be required to state the reason for the extraordinary session, and once that goal is met, the session could be extended for up to 15 days by a two-thirds majority of both houses.

Under current law, only the governor can call a special session, and the governor sets the agenda for the session.

The third proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot is Joint Senate Resolution 14 by Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, which would prohibit the government from fettering a person’s freedom of religion unless the government can demonstrate that it furthers a compelling government interest and is the least restrictive means of promoting that interest.

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