DOGS AND DICE: Greyhound racing is dying off, but Southland Gaming in West Memphis got a big gambling boost from Arkansas voters Tuesdasy.
Florida voters Tuesday overwhelmingly approved
a measure to phase out greyhound racing in the state by 2020. This will leave Arkansas as one of a very few places where the sport remains legal.
Florida has 11 of the 17 active greyhound tracks in the country. Only five states — one being Arkansas — currently have legal greyhound racing.
The looming end of greyhound racing — under attack for years by humane groups — helps explain why Southland Gaming
in West Memphis invested heavily in the amendment to solidify the legality of its existing casino at West Memphis alongside its greyhound track, as well as allow it to expand to conventional casino table games and sports bookmaking. Currently only "electronic games of skill" are allowed at Southland, but it produces enormous income, with $2.7 billion in betting (most paid back in winnings) not to mention $40 million last year in tax revenue.
Only parimutuel betting on horses is specifically protectred
in the Arkansas Constitution. But various statutes have provided for dog betting at Southland and the electroinic
games at the two racetracks. No legal challenge was ever mounted to the notion that the "games of skill" were actually pure gambling lotteries, nominally prohibited by the Constitution.
Voter action Tuesday clears up the issue for Southland and Oaklawn, plus allowing establishment
of two more casinos, one each in Jefferson and Pope counties. Indian tribes helped underwrite the amendment in hopes of winning the permits for casinos in Pine Bluff and Russellville. Voters in Pope County Tuesday passed a measure requiring an election before a casino could open there. That measure could get a legal challenge. The constitutional amendment on casinos says the only local approval necessary is that of a local county judge or mayor in a city where a casino was established.