Arkansas Election Commissioners Toss Ballot Measure

State election commissioners (l.) rejected a proposed amendment that would remove Pope County as a casino site. They said the ballot title was misleading, since it didn’t mention the Cherokee Nation already holds a permit for a Pope County casino.

Voters in Pope County, Arkansas will not have the opportunity to approve or reject a constitutional amendment that would remove Pope County as a casino location.

The Arkansas Board of Election Commissioners said the proposed amendment’s ballot title, submitted by the group Fair Play for Arkansas, was misleading because it didn’t indicate the fact that the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma already has a permit for a Pope County casino.

The proposed ballot measure would repeal Amendment 100, which in 2018 authorized four statewide casinos, including one in Pope County. In November 2021, the Arkansas Racing Commission granted the Pope County license to the Cherokee Nation’s Legends Resort after commissioners nullified the license previously awarded to Gulfside Casino Partnership.

Numerous lawsuits have been filed ever since, including one from the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, which has spent millions to back Fair Play for Arkansas’ efforts to get the measure on the ballot.

Cherokee Nation attorney Dustin McDaniel had urged the election commissioners not to certify the ballot title because he said it was insufficient, misleading and had partisan tones. The commission also noted the proposed amendment would negate the Cherokees’ casino permit, which would have significant impact on potential economic development.

Fair Play officials said they plan to take the case to the Arkansas Supreme Court.

McDaniel said, “We assume Fair Play will petition the Supreme Court to review this decision and we will intervene to assist the attorney general’s office in defending it.” He noted Legends already has a contract with Pope County—the foundation has been poured and plans are underway to hire 1,200 employees.

Meanwhile, the Arkansas Secretary of State’s office still is qualifying signatures on petitions distributed by Fair Play to put the amendment on the ballot. At last count, Fair Play officials said they turned in 103,096 signatures, more than the 89,151 required to make it onto the ballot.

Earlier this month, the Arkansas Times reported several Pope County landowners have profited by selling pasture lands or otherwise undeveloped tracts to Legends. County assessor records showed Legends has purchased at least 12 parcels totaling 97.9 acres since January for a total of $22.5 million.