A professional poker player’s attempt to win exclusive rights to operate casinos in Arkansas was rejected by election officials Wednesday, setting up a second court battle on whether an expanded gambling measure can appear on the November ballot.
Secretary of State Mark Martin’s office rejected revised language for professional poker player Nancy Todd’s proposed amendment to the state constitution. The move came hours after Todd submitted additional signatures from voters that she needed to qualify the proposal for the ballot.
Todd said she planned to file a lawsuit before the state Supreme Court challenging the decision.
“We knew in January it was going to come down to the Supreme Court, so that’s where we’ll head,” Todd said.
If Todd files the lawsuit by Thursday, election officials are required by law to certify the amendment and keep it on the ballot while the case is being considered.
A competing casino proposal that would give a Texas businessman exclusive rights to operate casinos in seven counties will also remain in place while the court considers the state’s rejection of the petition signatures he offered to secure its spot on the ballot.
“The people should be deciding this issue,” Todd said. “It shouldn’t be tied up in any kind of political quagmire. The people should have a right to vote on this issue.”
Alex Reed, a spokesman for Martin’s office, said it is still possible for the state to remove the measures from the ballot, depending on how quickly the courts rule. He said it may still appear on some ballots in some counties no matter the outcome of the court case. If that happens, the state simply won’t count those votes, he said.
A West Memphis dog track that also offers video poker and blackjack has contributed more than $727,000 to a campaign aimed at defeating Todd’s proposal. The revised language Todd proposed clarified that her measure may prohibit electronic gambling at the dog track and a Hot Springs horse track.
Martin’s office rejected the new language after Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said in an advisory opinion it was still unclear on the impact the casino measure would have on the tracks’ electronic gambling.
Election officials said last month that Todd had turned in 23,616 verified signatures, falling short of the 78,113 from registered voters required. She was given until Wednesday to submit the additional signatures and turned in an additional 121,503 by the deadline. Martin’s office has said it planned to review those signatures even if it rules her proposed measure isn’t fit for the ballot.