LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The state erred by rejecting a proposed ballot measure that if passed, would grant a woman exclusive rights to operate casinos in several Arkansas counties, and voters should decide the issue in November, her attorney told the state Supreme Court on Thursday.
Peter Kumpe, an attorney for professional poker player Nancy Todd, told justices the state unfairly rejected her bid late in the process due to its concerns that her proposed amendment would implicitly prohibit race tracks from offering electronic gambling games such as video poker and blackjack.
Todd's proposal would give her the right to operate casinos in four Arkansas counties. Last week, the court heard arguments in a similar lawsuit by a Texas businessman seeking to get a competing bid on the ballot that would give him exclusive casino operating rights in seven counties.
"The sponsors have experienced this process more like an obstacle course," Kumpe told the justices Thursday.
The secretary of state's office ruled that Todd's proposed measure couldn't legally appear on the ballot because it didn't inform voters it would repeal a law allowing a Hot Springs horse track and a West Memphis dog track to operate electronic "games of skill."
Former Congressman Asa Hutchinson, an attorney representing the secretary of state's office, said Todd's revised amendment language that says it "may" repeal the games would confuse voters even more.
"The plaintiffs have inserted a clause into the ballot title that so muddies the waters that voters cannot cast an informed vote," Hutchinson said.
Kumpe told the justices that the state is engaging in pure speculation by saying the amendment would implicitly repeal the electronic gambling at other locations. He said state officials are operating on the assumption that wholesale casino gambling is being offered at the tracks.
"The whole idea was to draw a line between games of chance and games of skill," Kumpe said.
But an attorney for the chairman of the Stop Casinos Now committee formed to campaign against the amendment said Todd's amendment is so broad that there's no other way to view its impact on the tracks. The committee is funded primarily by the company that owns Southland, the West Memphis track.
"The casino gaming they're allowed to do is all games," Steve Lancaster said. "There is no distinction between games of skill and games of chance."
The state and opponents have also argued that the petitions Todd submitted for the proposal shouldn't be accepted since she revised the language after submitting signatures in response to concerns raised by the secretary of state and attorney general's office.
Justices, who did not indicate when they might rule, appeared frustrated at times during the hour-long hearing over the relatively little time they have to consider the case with the Nov. 6 election approaching.
Andrew DeMillo can be reached at www.twitter.com/ademillo
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.