An Arkansas casino petition drive has garnered 96,170 signatures from residents who support two new casinos in Jefferson and Pope counties. This article outlines how the news relates to increased lobbying costs associated with statewide gambling regulatory initiatives.

In early July 2018, land-based casino interests in Arkansas submitted 96,170 signed petitions to the state in an effort to prompt election officials to place the issue on this November’s ballot.

The proposed amendment is one of three petitions (the other two deal with term limits and a minimum wage increase) that could result in 60 temporary workers being hired by the Arkansas Secretary of State office just to verify the signatures.

If the measure is put to a vote this coming November and approved, it would “solidify existing casinos, with added sports wagering at the Oaklawn and Southland racinos,” according to the Arkansas Times. “The tax revenue would go to state general revenues and local governments.”

National Ballot Access and the Arkansas Casino Petition

David Couch Arkansas Casino Petition

David A. Couch – Attorney at Law (Arkansas)

Paid canvassers contracted by National Ballot Access were instrumental in securing the signatures for all three petitions. Arkansas lawyer David Couch, who has fostered grassroots support on a number of Arkansas initiatives, also collaborated with the company — and was referenced in the Arkansas Online article linked above.

The group behind the casino amendment, the Arkansas Jobs Coalition, also used National Ballot Access, which Couch said prompted him to raise his price from $3 to $4 per signature earlier this week in order to compete.”

The per-signature rate of $4 that local canvassers are awarded for securing written voter intent and personal info is sky-high when considered in a vacuum, but actually happens to be in-line with the soaring costs associated with any statewide ballot initiative within the U.S.

With 96,170 signatures submitted to the state of Arkansas — at a contracting cost of $4 each — the total wages paid out for this preliminary lobbying service equals $384,680 USD. This expenditure does not include accompanying lobbyist project costs, future “get out to vote” campaign funding, nor does it guarantee that the proposed constitutional amendment will pass ballot box scrutiny come November.

It also shows just how daunting of a financial burden organized grassroots poker lobbying might be on a statewide level, as it is perfectly reasonable to assume that the Arkansas brick & mortar casino effort could command millions of dollars in funding by year’s end, even though this specific Arkansas casino petition does not make mention of competitive poker, or any form of traditional iGaming.

In other words, the legislative momentum, or focus, pertaining to Arkansas casino issues are currently concentrated on the interests of certain land-based casinos, and do not appear to overlap (or even align) with licensed online poker in the state.

Each U.S. State Has Unique Climate for Gambling Legislation

The plight of Arkansas brick & mortar casinos is just one example of the unique set of circumstances that defines the political climate for gambling legislation in each statewide U.S. jurisdiction.

Furthermore, the licensing rules and regulations established by states that have already authorized some form of land-based or online gambling product are likewise unique, and may require substantial research, time, and expenditure before committing to such a business venture — even from an auxiliary supplier/service provider perspective.

The specialized lobbyist groundwork necessary to effectively convince statewide lawmakers to consider related measures has significantly increased since the Supreme Court deemed PASPA unconstitutional and opened the way for regulated sports betting, and is further outlined in our article on Statewide Gambling Expansions and Voter Referendum Mandates from May 2018.

Where Does This Leave Poker Lobbyist Initiatives?

Lobbying for statewide online poker currently falls under the iDevelopment and Economic Association (iDEA) umbrella, which is backed by big-name online gambling operators GVC Holdings, The Stars Group, Paddy Power Betfair, 888, Golden Nugget, and various related interests.

The promotion of statewide, regulated online poker products comes as a packaged lobbying initiative through iDEA, and is comprised of a combination of online sports betting, slots, lottery, pari-mutuel wagering and house-edge table game stakeholders.

The iDEA group is an industry-facing organization that does not rely on grassroots lobbyist support.

On the other hand, the Poker Alliance — led by its new president Mark Brenner — is currently requesting support from statewide poker activists in its effort to be a “service organization” to poker players throughout the United States.

The lobbying arm has recently become a branch of PokerGO parent company Poker Central, which is owned by high stakes poker player Cary Katz and includes investors Daniel Negreanu, Antonio Esfandiari, and Phil Hellmuth.

Grassroots vs. Entrepreneurial Activism (Analysis)

* All analysis belongs solely to the author.

Both lobbyist groups referenced above face an uphill battle for licensed online poker games in the U.S. Yet it may be iDEA that is more correctly positioned to effectively lobby on behalf of the iGaming industry.

U.S. gambling lobbyist activities have been turned upside-down now that a clear focus is being placed on statewide legislation as opposed to federal solutions.

Once dominated by a united, nationwide voice led by peer-to-peer consumers and their clearly accommodating (albeit somewhat begrudgingly so) service providers, a new wave of states’ rights regulatory rhetoric has placed a premium on local talent that is intimately familiar with the issues and can navigate sensitive topics in full standing.

Such trends can be seen in the ongoing Houston Poker Debate, where land-based poker clubs and their opponents are locking horns in a regulatory battle that is causing a ruckus in the Lone Star State.

And therein lies a conundrum for national-based lobbyist groups on both sides of a “gambling legislation” debate in any balkanized licensing environment. The high profile nature of legislative proposals that deal with gambling — along with their corresponding regulations once they become law — is quickly creating small groups of informed individuals who may be expertly qualified to hang out an entrepreneurial shingle and support a lobbyist cause on either side.

A cooperative nationwide lobbyist apparatus can indeed play a major role in communicating municipal or statewide happenings while supporting measures it deems to be in its best interests, but the “canvassing,” or “get out to vote” power is shifting to those physically “on the ground” who possess invaluable knowledge of overlapping initiatives, who the key political players are, have brought issues before local legislators in the past, and are formally recognized by their respective governments as “constituents.”

What this means is that lobbyist funding for statewide gambling initiatives could be flowing into campaigns led by professionals in these individual states where gambling legislation is currently being considered, and out of the control of “grassroots outreach” groups such as the Poker Alliance that, in the past, may have persuaded talented activists to link their labor into the PPA’s “federal” fold in lieu of directly monetizing it.

In Houston particularly, the specialized, informed, local knowledge (and fervent communication of that knowledge) posted by contributors in a related TwoPlusTwo NVG thread suggest it might be more plausible for Texas activists to solicit funds from an organization such as the Poker Alliance rather than the other way around.

As more infrastructure is dedicated towards statewide gambling initiatives, it becomes more likely that small groups of informed, would-be volunteer lobbyists perceive a direct value they can bring to a statewide legislative battle. This in turn could result in local talent rejecting outside lobbyist influence from groups that aren’t providing funding (or other forms of support) to justify creative reign over narratives that would otherwise be controlled on a municipal or statewide level… not coordinated nationally.

Summary: Arkansas Casino Petition

For the time being, casino stakeholders in Arkansas will have to wait for state employees to verify the petition signatures — a process that could take up to 30 days to complete.

And despite the current uncertainty surrounding whether the amendment will ultimately be put to a vote this November, the Arkansas “ground game” expenditures so far clearly demonstrate the enormous financial burden associated with lobbying for gambling-related pursuits on a statewide level.

Part Time Poker Statewide Gambling Regulation Guides/Articles

Michigan Regulated iGaming Study Guide (Feb 6, 2018)
Michigan Online Poker Bill FAQs (House Bills 4926-4928) (May 5, 2018)
Pennsylvania Casino Self-Exclusion Regulatory Guide (Jun 17, 2018)
Pennsylvania Compulsive and Problem Gambling Regulatory Guide (Jun 9, 2018)
Pennsylvania Category 2 Casions – Licensing Process (May 31, 2018)
Pennsylvania Category 4 Casino FAQs (Mar 12, 2018)
Louisiana Senate Bill 322 Would Regulate iGaming Parish-by-Parish (Mar 5, 2018)

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