- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 21, 2016

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Former Gov. Mike Beebe on Wednesday said he opposes an effort to legalize casinos in three Arkansas counties, citing concerns that local voters wouldn’t be able to decide for themselves whether to allow the expanded gambling.

The Committee to Protect Arkansas’ Values/Stop Casinos Now announced the former Democratic governor’s opposition to the proposed constitutional amendment that would legalize casinos in Boone, Miller and Washington counties. If approved by voters, the casinos would be operated by three companies owned by supporters of the ballot measure.

Beebe said a statewide vote on the issue would run counter to the state’s tradition of allowing local communities to decide whether to allow liquor sales. Beebe, a two-term governor who left office in January 2015 because of term limits, has opposed past casino legalization efforts.

“This amendment would deny our cities, towns and communities the ability to decide for themselves what kind of community they want to live in,” Beebe said in a statement released by the group. “This loss of local control is why I am opposed to this amendment and would encourage voters to vote no on Issue #5.”

The group behind the casino measure dismissed Beebe’s endorsement, noting that a lobbying firm owned by the former governor’s employer represents a Hot Springs horse track that is backing the anti-casino campaign. Beebe last year was hired by the Roberts Law Firm and Roberts Group, but he doesn’t do any lobbying for the firm. Roberts GR Strategies listed Oaklawn Jockey Club as a client in registration papers filed with the state in June. Oaklawn and Southland Park Gaming and Racing, a West Memphis dog track, are funding the Stop Casinos Now campaign. Both tracks offer video poker and other electronic games of skill.

“Oaklawn and Southland will stop at nothing to protect their profits over the best interests of Arkansans,” Robert Coon, a spokesman for the pro-casino campaign Arkansas Wins in 2016, said in an email. “Opinions differ on this issue, which is one reason the framers gave the people a process by which they can directly amend the Arkansas Constitution.”

Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Beebe’s Republican successor, has also said he opposes the casino measure. The anti-casino group on Wednesday announced the number of state legislators opposing the ballot measure has grown to 52.

A lawsuit by Stop Casinos Now seeking to disqualify the measure from the November ballot is pending before the state Supreme Court.


Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at https://twittter.com/ademillo

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