Oaklawn seeks to intervene in casino lawsuit


LITTLE ROCK — A grouped backed by an Arkansas racetrack has filed a motion to intervene in a lawsuit over a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow the operation of casinos in seven counties.

The Arkansas Racing Alliance, a ballot committee backed by Oaklawn Park thoroughbred track in Hot Springs, is seeking to intervene in opposition to Texas businessman Michael Wasserman’s bid to have the state Supreme Court overturn the secretary of state’s rejection of petitions for his proposal.

The alliance was formed to oppose Wasserman’s proposed amendment and another proposed constitutional amendment by Nancy Todd’s Poker Palace LLC to allow casino-style games in four counties.

Secretary of State Mark Martin rejected Wasserman’s petitions last month, finding that Wasserman failed to submit a number of signatures of registered voters equal to at least 5 percent of the vote in the last gubernatorial election from each of at least 15 counties. Wasserman later filed a lawsuit asking the state Supreme Court to order Martin to allow him more time to gather signatures.

The total number of signatures of registered voters needed to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot is 78,133.

In a filing dated Monday, the Arkansas Racing Alliance said it should be allowed to intervene because any decision by the court in Wasserman’s case might impair or impede the group’s right to challenge the proposed constitutional amendment later.

The alliance said it opposes Wasserman’s lawsuit because his company, Arkansas Hotels and Entertainment Inc., is not a registered voter in Arkansas and therefore lacks standing to bring the suit; because he has failed to provide a sufficient record on which the court could base a decision; and his argument that he should be allowed more time to collect signatures “is erroneous and contrary to the Arkansas Constitution.”

Wasserman said Tuesday the racetrack is just trying to protect itself from competition. Oaklawn and Southland Greyhound Park in West Memphis are permitted under Arkansas law to operate electronic games of skill, though casino gambling is illegal.

“The monopoly there is trying to dream up anything they can to keep us out of the race, and I don’t believe the Supreme Court will even listen to their argument,” Wasserman said.

According to a financial report filed Friday with the state Ethics Commission, the Arkansas Racing Alliance has received $30,000 in contributions, all from Oaklawn.

Todd met the 15-county threshold with her initial submission of signatures but fell short of the total number needed. She has been given until Aug 22 to collect additional signatures.

Another group formed to oppose the casino proposals, Stop Casinos Now, has filed a petition with the secretary of state’s office asking it not to certify Todd’s proposal for the ballot. The attorney general’s office is reviewing the group’s petition.

Stop Casinos Now is a coalition of law enforcement, community leaders and elected officials.