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It's been extremely rare, if never, that I have agreed with Republican Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge.

Finally, she may have gotten it correct.

This past week, the often distracted by political-speak, top elected lawyer in Arkansas, Leslie Rutledge, aided no doubt by her staff, tossed the proposed ballot title for a proposed state Constitutional Amendment that would allow the establishment of a trio of casinos and subsequently use their profits and revenue to fund state highways.

It was a bad, bad, bad written proposal.

In the written opinion, which some staffer prepared, the AG's office said the proposal's ballot title had "ambiguities," in its wording.

I can clearly say, while attempting to find a strong source of revenue for the state's highways is needed, this was not the proper way to go about locating the dollars for roads.

The private group -- it always is a private group for the gambling amendments -- sought to direct much of the taxes on gambling profits to the Arkansas Department of Transportation. Just how much financial impact this proposal would have is still, pardon the pun, a crapshoot.

Such proposals, always, at first blush, look interesting. This proposal, as others from previous years, always wants to expand the games of chance that fuels tourism and seems to accompany a steady stream of gambling profits.

Arkansans, for the most part, have only seen a financial flourish of gambling institutions in the state -- Oaklawn (the horse track at Hot Springs) and the Dog track at West Memphis.

And the state's scholarship lottery, even after some "down" years -- seems to be generating a lot of money for college scholarships.

But, in reality, the amount of money funneled back to the gas station/convenience store countertop lottery scratcher or number guessers on Powerball and Meg-a-million ticket buyers in minuscule -- much like the odds of winning one of these multi-state drawings.

Still, Arkansans, apparently like to support these institutions.

And so do the tourists visiting Arkansas.

I dare to say, the West Memphis Greyhound Park/Games of Electronic Game Casino -- draws more people across the I-30 and I-55 bridges from Tennessee and North Mississippi INTO Arkansas than cross the bridge from Arkansas into, say, the flat-line casinos in nearby Tunica, Miss.

But let us get back to this ill-timed and hair-brained proposal to fund highways.

The proposal was rejected by Rutledge's office as the AG is required by state law to certify the popular name and ballot title of proposed constitutional amendments BEFORE the supporters can begin gathering signatures to qualify the measure for the November general election.

The proposed popular title, gave the AG's staff and even me a little pause.

Calling the proposal, "The Arkansas Casino Gambling and Highway Funding Amendment of 2018," was a stretch -- a big stretch -- and long odds on its being acceptable.

In short, the measure, if in its proposed form, would permit -- three casinos -- a limit of one casino - in the following counties -- Crawford, Crittenden, Jefferson, Miller, Mississippi, Pope, Union or White.

Three of those counties have a majority of its population below the state and federal poverty standards. All but two are on or near the state border with other states. Three of these counties do not allow retail alcohol sales.

The proposal folks -- called Driving Arkansas Forward -- estimate that $45 million could be raised for the state Transportation Department.

They also make some tempting entries' that a full 30 percent of the 12 percent gambling tax -- would be split by the county and the city where these casinos operate.

But even a quick cash grab by the counties, cities and regions of our state -- won't undo this proposal solid enough for inspection by the state's AG's office.

And in closing I have to agree with AG Rutledge: the words "casino" and "casino gambling," need a lot more definition.

A bad proposal sent skittering back to the wordsmiths early on. Will it be back?

Oh, yeah, these are like that old bad penny -- such quick fix tax schemes built around gambling - always hang around in politics.

-- Maylon Rice is a former journalist who worked for several northwest Arkansas publications. He can be reached via email at maylontrice@yahoo.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

Editorial on 01/31/2018

Print Headline: Highway casino proposal 'parked' by Attorney General

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