LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — An attorney for a Little Rock marketing firm argued Thursday before the Arkansas Supreme Court that his client should be allowed to proceed with a trademark lawsuit against the Arkansas Lottery Commission.
The high court heard oral arguments but did not immediately issue a ruling in a lawsuit filed by Alpha Marketing against the Lottery Commission. The company has been seeking a ruling that it has exclusive rights to use of the terms "Arkansas lottery," "Arkansas Lotto," and "Lottery Arkansas," some of which it has had trademarked since 1994.
The company filed the suit after the attorney general's office warned Ed Dozier, owner of Alpha Marketing, that he would be subject to legal action if he continued to use the terms.
The attorney general's office maintains that the secretary of state's office should not have granted the trademarks because lotteries did not become legal in Arkansas until 2008, when voters approved a constitutional amendment to permit a state lottery to fund college scholarships. The lottery launched in 2009.
In March, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen denied a motion by the state to dismiss the lawsuit on the grounds that the lottery has sovereign immunity as a state agency. The state appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court.
Skip Davidson, attorney for the company, told the justices today that the lottery is run as a for-profit business and therefore sovereign immunity does not apply.
"It is a state-run monopoly. They charge for tickets and they deduct their operating expenses and they make a profit," he said.
Assistant Attorney General Mark Ohrenberger countered that if Davidson's argument were correct, the state Department of Finance and Administration could be called a for-profit business because it collects taxes. He noted that 100 percent of the lottery's profits must be used to fund scholarships.
"These aren't profits in the sense that the agency can use them for anything it wants," he said.
Some of the justices questioned whether the issue was properly brought before them, noting that Griffen did not state his reasons for denying the motion in his order.
Ohrenberger said the denial of the motion implied that Griffen rejected the plaintiffs' argument that sovereign immunity did not apply to the lottery.