Arkansas racetracks can add slot gambling, SC rules

Legal News Line Sep. 27, 2007, 9:15am

Justice Paul E. Danielson

LITTLE ROCK -- Racetracks in Arkansas that added extra gaming facilities following a 2005 citizens' referendum can keep them, the state's Supreme Court ruled today. In Gallas et al. v. Arkansas Racing Commission et al. (opinion# 06-956) the Supreme Court affirmed a Garland County Circuit Court summary judgment ruling for the tracks. The lower court ruled that a 2005 law allowing a local vote to install "electronic games of skill" at local tracks was constitutional. These included video poker, blackjack and other "slot machines" to be installed at Oaklawn Park and Southland racetracks. These will join Instant Racing slot machines that were first installed in both tracks more than seven years ago. The Arkansas Family Council appealed, saying that electors outside the city limits of Hot Springs and West Memphis, in Crittenden County, had been disenfrachised by the city-only votes. But the Supreme Court ruled that opponents did not meet their burden in proving the act unconstitutional, wrote Justice Paul E. Danielson. Economic factors were in fact the primary driving force for the new law. "[T]he General Assembly's clear intent in enacting the Act was to protect Arkansas's economic and agribusiness activity in the state and in the communities in which horse and greyhound racing parks are located," Danielson wrote for the 6-1 majority. "[T]he legislature's application of the Act is not expressly limited to Oaklawn and Southland; instead, it permits any 'franchise holder' to conduct wagering on electronic games of skill," he added. But Special Justice Cliff Gibson in opposition cited an amendment to the state Constitution forbidding the General Assembly from passing "local and special acts." "Why...limit the use of these machines to citizens whose only qualification is that they run a dog or horse track?" he questioned in his dissent. The Florida Supreme Court is currently hearing a challenge to similar changes in Florida, LNL reported last week. As in Arkansas, opponents in Broward and Miami-Dade Counties are appealing the legality of a vote on allowing local racetracks to expand on-site gambling.

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