The Choctaw Tribe-funded Fair Play for Arkansas, which seeks to repeal the Arkansas Constitution legalization of a casino permit in Pope County already awarded to the Cherokee Nation, said Monday it has 100,000 signatures on its proposed constitutional amendment. The number represents 11,000 more than the signatures required, given that all are qualifying registered voters and distributed among 15 counties.
In a release from Fair Play Arkansas, Spokesman Hans Stiritz said: "We’re extremely grateful for the support from voters across the state who signed our ballot petitions, allowing us to submit the signatures required to qualify for the ballot and move onto a statewide campaign. The citizens of Pope County are asking to be treated like our neighbors in the 74 other counties: we don’t want a casino mandated in our community. Now the voters of Arkansas will have the chance to support local control and end this corrupt process in Pope County once and for all."
The Choctaws operate Oklahoma casinos and may see the Pope County casino as a threat to its business, and the Cherokee Nation also has Oklahoma casinos and sees Pope County as a potentially good market.
Furthermore, Fair Play called on the state to investigate the Arkansas Tourism Alliance – a ballot committee opposing Fair Play’s efforts – for potential petition fraud. It was created in March by the Cherokee Nation Business and Little Rock attorney David Couch. "Our canvassers have faced assault, physical intimidation, harassment, and other threats – they have even been offered bribes by representatives of the opposing committee to discard legally gathered signatures. This appears to be a serious legal and ethical violation and should be investigated by state law enforcement.”
According to Fair Play, these tactics have increased in recent weeks, around the time the Arkansas Tourism Alliance is shown to have hired "Let the Voters Decide, LLC," a company owned by Mark Jacoby. Reports filed with the Arkansas Ethics Commission say that the Arkansas Tourism Alliance paid $650,000 to Jacoby, who was convicted of voter fraud in another state and is frequently criticized for his aggressive tactics.
The Arkansas Tourism Alliance has about $1.1 million from the Cherokee Nation to fight the Fair Play repeal. If the repeal hits the ballot there will be a jackpot in TV advertising from the competing sides. If they can find time to buy after politician Sarah Huckabee Sanders vacuums up $10 million or more worth, as reported by the Arkansas Times.
According to state law, a group is required to have 75% of the required signatures with 75% of the counties to qualify for a period to “cure” a shortage with additional signatures. Submission of signatures also begins a 30-day process in which the state Board of Election Commissioners must certify the ballot title and popular name.
Fair Play has roots in Pope County residents who’ve long opposed a casino in the county, through legal action, the election of county officials who oppose the casino, and then an amendment campaign, which was supercharged by more than $2 million in Choctaw contributions.
The constitution amendment allowed for casinos in both Pope and Jefferson counties, as well as at the established race tracks in Hot Springs and West Memphis. Legends Resort and Casino, formed as an Arkansas limited liability company on September 11, 2019, first submitted an application for the license on January 15, 2020. Before that, the application was solely in the name of Cherokee Nation Businesses, wholly owned by the Cherokee Nation.
Pope County voters rejected the casino amendment, but their vote couldn’t override the dictates of the amendment, which requires the issuance of a permit in Pope County is supported by the county judge, quorum court, or mayor of a city in which the casino would be located. County Judge Ben Cross supports the Cherokee permit.
Repeal of a Pope County permit wouldn’t appear to affect the casinos at Oaklawn, Saracen in Pine Bluff, and Southland in West Memphis, all authorized by the same constitutional amendment. But there are some who think fiddling with a constitutional amendment risks unforeseen consequences.
Couch, who is an attorney for Cherokee Nation Businesses, stated: "Considering the historical validity rate of petitions in the state of Arkansas, as well as the population of registered voters, indications are strong that based on what Fair Play says it will submit today, they will not meet the minimum numbers required to initiate the petitions."
"Furthermore, a mountain of evidence exists to challenge significant improprieties pertaining to Fair Play’s signature-gathering efforts, including gross misrepresentation by canvassers of the ballot petition’s purpose, employment of persons with criminal backgrounds, and improper notarization of petitions. We remain optimistic and will continue the fight to keep the constitutional amendment voters approved in 2018 intact, keeping billions of dollars in tax revenue and thousands of good-paying jobs in the state of Arkansas, he concluded.