Arkansas group pushing for casinos to help fund highways

Up to three casinos could be coming to the State of Arkansas, but some major hurdles will need to be cleared first. (PHOTO: KATV)

Up to three casinos could be coming to Arkansas, but some major hurdles will need to be cleared first.

A new group, Driving Arkansas Forward, is awaiting the attorney general's decision before collecting signatures to put this amendment on the 2018 ballot.

The group said that if the amendment makes it on the ballot and voters approve it, 65 percent of tax revenue from the new casinos would go to highway funding.

According to the Arkansas Department of Transportation, the agency needs an additional $478 million each year to fund all of its desired projects.

"We're talking about roughly $50 million in revenue just from the net gaining receipts tax alone that would go to the highway trust fund, and that's a huge shot in the arm for an industry that needs it badly,” said Nate Steel, an attorney representing the group.

While the bulk of tax revenue would go to highways, the rest would be split among the counties and cities hosting a casino, and some would go to the Arkansas Lottery Division. The amendment states that the Arkansas Lottery Division would also be involving in licensing the casinos.

What could Arkansans be voting for in 2018?

Voters could decide whether to allow up to two casino licenses. Whether a third is licensed would be decided by the lottery division.

The two counties eligible for the two licenses, based off economic needs and population, are Jefferson and Crittenden counties.

If neither county expresses interest, six other counties could compete for the licenses. If the lottery division allows a third casino license, that would increase the chances for the following six counties: Crawford, Miller, Mississippi, Pope, Union, and White.

"The funding is going to highways and obviously that energizes folks from all over the state and that's not a coincidence," Steel said. "It's a critical need, highway infrastructure funding is right now. Also, this is a way to make sure that everybody that says ... 'We don't want a casino in our backyard' or 'We don't get any benefit from a casino in somebody else's backyard' -- it gives skin in the game for every single county, town and city."

Leaders in Jefferson County met with the Quapaw Tribe last week. Both sides expressed interest in working as partners.

KATV reached out to the Pine Bluff mayor, but was told she was traveling. There was no word from the Jefferson County judge.

Quapaw Tribe Chairman, John Berrey, released this statement to Channel 7:

The Quapaw Tribe has a longstanding interest in economic development in Arkansas, so we’re eager to partner with a coalition supporting a constitutional amendment to bring gaming to Jefferson County and other counties in Arkansas. Unlike previous measures, this amendment uses a merit-based selection process and puts the decision-making in the hands of local communities. We are excited about the potential opportunity to work with the people of Pine Bluff and Jefferson County to invest in the future to bring more than 1,000 full-time jobs to the Delta and raise much-needed funding for Arkansas's highway needs.

The Crittenden County judge said that although it's too early to tell, he'll involve his full quorum court if a decision needs to be made.

KATV will continue to update this story.

Click here to read more from our content partner, Talk Business and Politics.

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