Interesting. A friend today received a mailer urging people not to sign petitions being circulated by Nancy Todd to amend the Arkansas Constitution to allow her to open "poker palaces" and casinos in Pulaski, Miller, Crittenden and Franklin counties.
We've mentioned Todd before, but who is Stop Casinos Now?
The website advertised on the mailer takes you to a sign-in for a private blog. The phone number listed to call in people gathering signatures was not working when I tried it. The state Ethics Commission has no filing for a ballot question committee — a requirement for committees formed to oppose ballot measures as well as to pass them. Committees working against qualification or for or against passage must file papers within five days of raising or spending $500. Nothing so far on this mailer, which looks pretty professional.
Todd, who I spoke with briefly by phone, said her committee is in the field gathering signatures. She has filed organizational papers for her committee, Arkansas Counts. She said the other officers listed there name all the others supporting the venture financially. She said there are no other silent partners.
I've sent her the flyer for comment. She said she wasn't surprised and expected opposition, particularly from established competitors who have long enjoyed a gambling monopoly in the state.
The mailer talks about the pernicious toll of gambling, how it will prey on Arkies and create an "unregulated gambling monopoly." This does NOT, of course, mean it's not a product of a gambling enterprise seeking to discourage further competition. Arkansas has two casinos — one at Southland Park in West Memphis and one at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs. But it also has casinos near borders in Mississippi, Oklahoma and Louisiana that might not wish to see Arkansas gamblers drawn to competitors closer to their homes. The religious right Family Council has long been a foe of expanded gambling, but it rarely is reluctant to identify itself. I have some calls out and Troy Keeping at Southland promised to get back to me. He said he'd heard about an "action committee" working against the casino amendment.
UPDATE: I talked with Robert McLarty of the Markham Group, a political consulting firm. He said the group will file papers tomorrow, within the 5-day window, that will reveal the leadership of the committee. He said it will be a "broad coalition" of elected officials, faith-based groups and law enforcement from all over "who have a problem with what she's trying to do."
In response to a further question he confirmed that, yes, Delaware North, owner of Southland, would be a major financial contributor to the committee. He said Oaklawn is not paying him for his firm's work. A luncheon is scheduled Thursday at the Capitol to outline the group's objectives.
A little irony, I suggested, in the state's largest casino (based on monthly receipts) paying to send a mailer about the predatory effects of casino gambling. McLarty counters that the casinos in Arkansas have been long-time state businesses heavily regulated in a process that evolved through the legislature. Todd, and another Texas investor, proposed unregulated businesses with out-of-state investors and to place them in counties where the voters might not want them, he said.
With the Markham Group running the program, I know one thing — there won't be full accountability on campaign spending. It led the fight before the Ethics Commission, along with the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, to claim flawed statutory wording prohibited the same level of disclosure required of individual political candidates. McLarty contends detailed reporting would reveal proprietary strategies. I contend that's hokum.
UPDATE II: A religious-based coalition has also announced its opposition to casino proposals being circulated, along with the proposal to take a step toward medical use of marijuana. Its release follows:
Four Arkansas grass roots organizations have joined together in a Ballot Question Committee, the Coalition to Preserve Arkansas Values (“CPAV”), to oppose two proposed constitutional amendments to grant to out-of-state companies unregulated monopolies on casino gambling and to oppose a proposed initiated act to legalize so-called medical-marijuana. Those groups are the Arkansas Family Coalition, Families First Action Committee, Family Council Action Committee, and the Arkansas Committee for Ethics Policy, a companion organization to the Arkansas Faith and Ethics Council.
Members of CPAV contend that Arkansans, even the most ardent gambling supporters, will be unwilling to give any entity the exclusive right to own and operate casinos without state oversight and regulation. “If any industry in America has demonstrated that it deserves strict scrutiny and mandated compliance with state standards it is the casino industry. Consider the problems we’ve already encountered with the relatively-new lottery here in Arkansas. Imagine how much worse it would have been if there were no legislative and administrative oversight of that big numbers game operated on behalf of the state.”
As these campaigns unfold and more comes to light about the two casino proposals, Arkansans will see that both embody bad policy, bad business, and would be bad for the state’s quality of life CPAV asserts. “We already have too much gambling in our state. We don’t need to divert even more money from our traditional economy. Casinos are notorious for cannibalizing traditional businesses that are in relative close proximity to them. Sales tax, wages, and
support for existing businesses will wane, and any net revenue gained from casinos will not be adequate to cover the lost revenue and other costs associated with casinos, particularly expenses incurred as a result of increased crime.”
Arkansans will be equally unwilling to take the first step toward the full legalization of marijuana for recreational use, which is a major impetus for “medical-marijuana” laws, according to some of the national leaders of the movement. CPAV contends that “if there are components of marijuana (THC, for example) that render medical benefits for patients suffering from certain maladies, there are more efficacious, safer, and saner ways to deliver the THC rather than the smoking of marijuana cigarettes. Components of opium have proved to have medical benefit, but the FDA has not approved the smoking of opium or heroin. Instead, medical science extracted the beneficial components and developed medicines such as morphine, codeine, hydrocodone, and oxycodone. The same has been done and is continuing to be done with marijuana.”
Members of CPAV point out a number of other things. Smoking marijuana cigarettes, especially long-term use as is common to treat things such as chronic pain, poses serious respiratory and other health risks. Marijuana contains carcinogens and tar similar to tobacco cigarettes. Marijuana can be addictive and serve as a gateway drug. One need only look to states like California and Colorado to see how easily medical-marijuana laws lead to the virtual legalization of marijuana for recreational use and totally frustrate law enforcement relative to marijuana laws.
These three proposals offer policy that run counter to Arkansas’s traditional values. Should any of these measures get on November’s general election ballot, CPAV is confident that Arkansas voters will reject them and choose to maintain our state’s good quality of life.