Arkansas voters will decide if casino can be built in Boone County

Published: Sep. 1, 2016 at 7:44 PM CDT
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Voters across Arkansas will decide if casinos can be built in Boone, Miller, and Washington counties.

It was announced on Thursday that the measure, Issue #5, will be on the state ballot because enough signatures were collected by the ballot initiative led by "Arkansas Wins in 2016."

Not many specific details have yet been released about a proposed casino for Boone County, but the builders are interested in putting it close to U.S. 65 and as close to Branson as possible.

Some folks in Harrison are excited.

"I think it's great! I don't know any drawbacks to it being in Boone County. It looks to me it'll help the economy and everybody in general," said Harrison resident Bill Phifer.

However, Boone County sheriff Mike Moore isn't excited, and doesn't mince words.

"They're going to go to great lengths to make it sound like the best thing that ever happened to Boone County, and I'm telling you that's not my belief. I think it would be horrible for our community, especially if our community votes no, and the whole state votes yes, and this gets crammed down our throats, it's wrong," said Moore.

Moore thinks gambling could bring more drunken drivers, crime, and make poverty worse in the area.

"I'm afraid there's going to be more bankruptcies. I'm afraid there's going to be more foreclosures. I'm afraid there's going to be more domestic violence," said Moore.

Supporters say the economic investment and jobs created would be worth it. Plus, they would get some entertainment closer to home.

"Now we're all going out of state, so at least there's something coming back to the state," said Pfifer, adding that he and other friends currently drive several hours away to visit casinos.

The casino would pay 18 percent tax to the state and half a percent to the county.

One Boone County official worries it won't be enough for the extra law enforcement .

"Point-five percent won't go a long ways," said County Judge Robert Hathaway.

Critics also worry the casino may benefit Branson more than Harrison.

If Issue 5 passes on the November ballot in Arkansas, Texarkana and Fayetteville could also get casinos. The casinos would be co-owned and operated by two Branson-area investor-developers. Bob Womack and Jim Thompson declined to comment on the upcoming vote, or their plans.

Robert Coon, spokesman for Arkansas Wins in 2016, issued the following news release:

Arkansas Wins in 2016, the ballot committee formed to support passage of a constitutional amendment that would authorize casino gaming in three Arkansas counties, today announced that it had received certification from the Arkansas Secretary of State’s office for the amendment to be included on the November General Election ballot. The casino amendment will be listed on the ballot as Issue 5.

“We’re grateful to the 100,977 registered Arkansas voters that joined with our campaign to get this pro-growth, pro-jobs issue on the ballot this November,” said Robert Coon, spokesman for Arkansas Wins in 2016 and Arkansas Winning Initiative Inc. “This amendment will create thousands of good paying jobs, generate tens of millions of dollars in new tax revenue, increase tourism, and stimulate our state and local economies.”

In June, Arkansas Wins in 2016 announced that it will partner with Cherokee Nation Entertainment for a new state of the art casino, hotel and entertainment venue in Washington County if Issue 5 passes. Cherokee Nation Entertainment is the Cherokee Nation’s wholly-owned corporate entity that manages the tribe’s gaming, hospitality, entertainment and retail ventures. In the most recent fiscal year, Cherokee Nation Entertainment employed more than 4,000 people, providing a payroll of $182.7 million, invested $45.4 million into job creation and business development efforts and paid $28.4 million in gaming fees to the state of Oklahoma.

“In addition to having a statewide impact, Washington County, Miller County, and Boone County in particular stand to benefit tremendously from passage of this amendment as it will bring jobs, tax revenue, and tourism back from bordering states, and provide those communities with new gaming, hotel, entertainment, and restaurant options,” stated Coon. “We’re excited that Arkansans will have the opportunity to vote on this important amendment this November.”

Coon also released the following statement:

"Amending the Arkansas constitution requires a statewide vote. Any casino built in Boone County will be subject to the same zoning and land use laws as any other business located in Boone county. We’ve been very pleased with the reception that this amendment has received thus far in Boone County during the signature phase and look forward to the county's support for Issue 5 in November. The principals involved in this effort are committed to being good corporate citizens, and care deeply about having a positive impact on the communities where the casinos would be located. Should voters pass Issue 5, the establishment of a casino in Boone County would result in hundreds of new jobs, increased tourism, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in new tax revenue that can be utilized to pay for local community needs. We believe that a casino will also result in more dining, shopping, and entertainment options for the area, making Boone County an even more attractive place to visit, while increasing tax revenue and enhancing property values."

End of news release