LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A proposed constitutional amendment to allow casino gambling was bounced Wednesday over concerns about the ballot's wording, but the measure's backer says she still intends to put the matter before voters.
The proposal by professional poker player Nancy Todd would give her exclusive rights to casinos to Crittenden, Franklin, Miller and Pulaski counties.
Secretary of State Mark Martin ruled Wednesday in favor of a challenge to Todd's plan that said the wording on the ballot failed to fully explain the scope of her proposal.
Todd is still gathering signatures of registered voters and faces a deadline Monday to reach the 78,133 she must have to get the proposal on the ballot.
"This does not change one thing we are doing," Todd said.
Todd said her lawyers will review Martin's ruling and then decide how to address it.
Todd said that if the only hurdle is the ballot wording problem, "I'll take it."
Martin spokesman Mark Myers said in an email that Todd "could go to court" to try to have Martin's ruling overturned. State law also allows for corrections to wording in such cases.
Martin ruled on a challenge by the group Stop Casinos Now, an organization chaired by Chuck Lange, a former president of the Arkansas Sheriff's Organization. The group is funded by Southland Park greyhound track in West Memphis, which has casino-style games.
Southland gave the group $87,347.50, according to a filing with the state Ethics Commission. Southland and Oaklawn Park horse track in Hot Springs offer "electronic games of skill" that are allowed under Arkansas law. Todd's proposed operation would offer competition and would overturn the law that enabled local voters to approve expanded gambling in Hot Springs and West Memphis.
The group argued that Todd's proposal shouldn't be allowed on the ballot because its ballot title doesn't fully reflect what the amendment would do and because the casinos would hold a monopoly and not be regulated by the state.
Martin turned away the regulation and monopoly arguments. But he agreed that the ballot title doesn't fully convey the scope of what the amendment would accomplish since it would repeal the electronic games of skill law.
"We are pleased today that the Secretary of State has agreed with our petition that Nancy Todd's ballot title is not fair or complete. Arkansas voters deserved to know the truth about Vegas-insider Nancy Todd's casino plan for our state," Lange said in a news release.
Attorney General Dustin McDaniel wrote an opinion on Lange's challenge in which he agreed that the ballot title omitted a provision by which the amendment would repeal the law that allowed Southland and Oaklawn to have electronic games of skill.
McDaniel wrote that the repeal would have given "a reasonable voter serious ground for reflection," which is the standard for determining the validity of ballot title wording.
Martin's office has certified 23,616 signatures submitted by Todd as being from registered voters. Todd was given 30 days to bring that total to the 78,133 she needs. If she doesn't reach that threshold, her proposal will not reach voters anyway.
One other casino proposal could also end up on the Nov. 6 ballot.
A proposal by Michael Wasserman would give him exclusive rights to operate casinos in seven counties.
Election officials found last month that the Texas businessman's measure fell short of the signatures required and would not qualify for the ballot. Wasserman has filed a lawsuit challenging that finding.