Arkansas Lt. Gov. Bill Halter submitted 138,615 signatures Thursday in support of a constitutional amendment creating a state-run lottery, moving his proposal to help fund college scholarships closer toward appearing on the November ballot.
Supporters needed 77,468 signatures by July 7 to get the measure on the November ballot. Tim Humphries, an attorney for the secretary of state's office, said officials will count and certify the valid signatures on July 7 and Halter will have 30 days to submit additional signatures if not enough are gathered.
"It's a major step along the path to hope and opportunity for Arkansas as we try to return the millions of dollars that is leaving the state and going into the purchase of lottery tickets in Tennessee, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas and Louisiana," Halter said as he stood in front of 12 boxes containing the signed petitions. "The scholarship lottery will keep those funds in Arkansas and put them to work educating and providing for the education of Arkansas students."
Just how much money remains in dispute. Halter contends that the lottery will bring in $100 million annually for college scholarships. But a non-profit group, Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, disputed that number in a report released Wednesday that said the state would actually only see $61.5 million annually.
The Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration has estimated that a lottery in the state would bring in $55 million annually.
Halter acknowledged that the lottery's revenues will depend in part in how it's implemented if passed by voters in November. Lawmakers must flesh out the details and limits on the lottery with enabling legislation next year if the lottery passes.
"I don't think that there's any question that the ultimate figure is going to depend on how a lottery gets enacted, but my hope is that when Arkansas voters decide this, that folks, including the folks who are opposed, will say the people have decided and now having had that vote we ought to fashion a system that works as well as it can possibly work," Halter said.
Halter said he could not guarantee that the lottery would not lead to video lottery terminals akin to slot machines in the state, a fear that has been raised by Attorney General Dustin McDaniel and opponents of the lottery. Halter said he is opposed to such games being added.
"The folks who are saying that would happen are saying the Legislature would do that, but the fact is ... we came up short on votes in the Legislature to even have a vote on the lottery in the first place," he said.
The head of the Arkansas Family Council, a conservative group opposed to the lottery, afterward said that the amendment would give lawmakers a "blank check" to define a lottery in any way they saw fit. Jerry Cox, the council's director, said his group is considering whether to file a legal challenge over the proposed ballot title.
"They might not pass (video lottery terminals) this year or next year, but in five years, 10 years or 20 years? Remember, we're enshrining this in the constitution," Cox said.