The Arkansas secretary of state's office certified a proposed constitutional amendment for the November ballot Monday that would allow voters to decide Lt. Gov. Bill Halter's measure for a state-run lottery to fund college scholarships.
"Only an anti-democratic move from some other party to try to get this initiative thrown off the ballot will deny Arkansas voters the right and the opportunity to decide this issue for themselves," Halter said at a Capitol news conference announcing certification of signatures he submitted to Secretary of State Charlie Daniels' office.
Jerry Cox, executive director of the Family Council, a Christian conservative organization whose Family Council Action Committee opposes a state lottery, said the group would use "whatever legal means available" to defeat the measure, possibly including a legal challenge.
"The task before us is to inform the voters of Arkansas about what this is, what it will do and how negatively it will impact the state of Arkansas," Cox said. "I wouldn't rule out a lawsuit at all. That might be us, it could be some other group, it could be us and another group. It's really too early to say."
Halter said he, along with hundreds of thousands of other Arkansans, hoped a lawsuit would not be filed.
"Fundamental to the way we govern is that the people are supposed to rule," he said.
Halter submitted more than 138,000 signatures to the secretary of state's office. Daniels' spokeswoman Natasha Naragon said the office had verified 91,149 of those submitted were valid and from registered voters. Proposed constitutional amendments require 77,468 signatures to make the general election ballot.
Halter estimates a state-run lottery would raise about $100 million annually for college scholarship. A study by the anti-lottery group Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families concluded the measure would yield about $60 million at most.
Halter's lottery campaign, Hope for Arkansas, has raised nearly $500,000 in support of the measure. He said the facts will be the basis for the pro-lottery campaign.
Arkansas ranks 49th nationwide in percentage of population with a bachelor's degree, he noted, adding that several neighboring states with lotteries have their top selling ticket outlets where those states border Arkansas.
Not only are lottery dollars escaping Arkansas at those locations, but also revenue from gasoline and other convenience store sales, along with sales tax proceeds, he said.
Seven other states besides Arkansas have no lottery. Among neighboring states, only Mississippi does not have a lottery. Mississippi does allow casino gambling.
Critics of an Arkansas lottery say Halter's proposal is too vague and would put the state directly into the gambling business, as Cox asserted, "encouraging the very poorest people of this state to gamble away their money so upper and middle class kids can use the money to go to college."
Halter said Arkansans statewide have told him they are "tired of the power of narrow special interest groups to deny the majority of Arkansans the opportunity to decide issues."
Another faith-based group, United Methodists Against Gambling, has registered with the state Ethics Commission as a ballot question committee to raise money for a campaign against the lottery proposal.
UMAG co-chairman Scott Trotter, a Little Rock lawyer, said the group has not made any decision involving a lawsuit against the lottery proposal, and he said he would not recommend a court challenge but would focus instead on a campaign to convince voters the measure is "fundamentally flawed."
Trotter noted Halter's support of a constitutional proposal the Legislature considered but rejected last year that narrowly defined lottery. Halter's proposal would leave the details of a state-run lottery to the Legislature.
"Somewhere between supporting that (proposal) in 2007 and writing his own lottery proposal, (Halter) opted not to define lottery at all and not to put any limitations at all on it," Trotter said. "He did so despite the benefit of two attorney general opinions."
In approving the measure's name and ballot title, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel raised concerns that the wording was vague and might open the door to other games of chance. Historically, lawmakers have tended to favor the expansion of gambling, Trotter said.
In 2005, the Legislature approved a measure that authorized voters in Hot Springs and West Memphis to decide on expanding games of skill at race tracks in those cities. Voters approved expanded gambling both at Oaklawn Park thoroughbred track in Hot Springs and Southland Greyhound Park in West Memphis.