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The Quapaw and Cherokee tribes in Oklahoma are becoming to Arkansas what the Russians are to U.S. elections.

No, I'm not suggesting the tribes are headed by murderous thugs looking to return a nation to dominance by undermining its strongest ideological opponent.

Rather, I'm suggesting the two tribes are an external force devoting considerable resources to influence Americans across a border in a state where they otherwise hold no power.

If the tribes get their way, they'll become a power in Arkansas. An economic power, for sure. And usually folks who do well economically easily turn that into political power.

Before anyone gets the wrong idea, this isn't about their American Indian heritage. That's really beside the point altogether. My issue with them is all about their drive to legalize casino gambling in Arkansas.

The private group responsible for a potential November ballot question to legalize casino gambling in Arkansas has named itself Driving Arkansans Bankrupt and ... wait a second ... no, that's not the name. Sorry, read my notes wrong. The group has named itself Driving Arkansas Forward, apparently because someone else had already registered Driving Arkansas Backward. It's probably another nonprofit organization by Sen. Jason Rapert, maybe to get a monument in the shape of Mount Sinai placed on the Arkansas Capitol grounds. Nothing religious, though. That's just where our laws got their start, on those tablets coming down with Moses. Totally secular.

But I digress ...

The man who has served as chairman of Driving Arkansas Forward since it filed the paperwork necessary to begin the ballot question process is Don Tilton, a lobbyist whose clients include the Quapaw tribe. The group he's part of includes several people experienced in state government, such as former lawmaker Nate Steel (which is pronounced the same as "steal" as in "let the casinos steal your money").

You can believe these folks have Arkansas' best interests at heart. I don't, but you're welcome to. They're counting on it.

This group's strategy involves dangling a carrot -- a completely unrelated carrot made of asphalt -- in front of Arkansas voters. The amendment they hope Arkansans will pass in November would authorize four casinos in the state. These casinos would include the usual games of chance along with sports betting.

Casino licenses would be issued to Oaklawn Jockey Club in Hot Springs, to Southland Greyhound Park in West Memphis, and to two as-yet-undetermined applicants who would be required to set up shop within two miles of Russellville in Pope County and within two miles of Pine Bluff in Jefferson County.

Hmmm. Sounds like someone has a plan in mind already, doesn't it?

Back to that carrot: Driving Arkansas Forward wants voters to specify that a great deal of the tax money collected be spent on highways and roads. They want Arkansans to dream of smooth trips across the state, free of potholes, so that nothing will stand in the way of people getting to the casinos. And elsewhere, I guess.

And the latest news last week was that the Quapaw and Cherokee tribes had sent $1 million more last month to fund Driving Arkansas Forward's mind control, er, promotional campaign for the measure. Keep in mind that the measure isn't even on the ballot yet. They're betting on the come with a message of prosperity through casino gambling. You can't lose if you don't play. Wait, no, that's not the message. It's something else. Just turn on the TV and the commercial will be on in a few minutes.

The two tribes now have contributed a total of more than $2 million toward the effort. They've done it through the Cherokee Nation Businesses LLC and the Downstream Development Authority of the Quapaw Tribe. Seems I remember hearing about something that flows downstream. Or was that downhill?

What about those Russians? Well, it's clear the tribes will pay handsomely for some Arkansas movers and shakers to use TV and radio ads, social media and the like in an all-out campaign to manipulate the state's voters into supporting this. I'm not saying they'll do it through skulduggery like the Russians. The sad statement is that they probably don't feel they need to. They're betting Arkansans are eager to be convinced so casinos can prey on people who don't need to be losing their hard-earned money to state government, racing tracks-turned-casinos and Indian tribes.

Could Arkansas use some money for highways and roads? Without a doubt. But trusting casino gambling to be that mechanism is weak. A lot of Arkansans who might balk if state government came asking for millions of dollars directly somehow don't mind so much if you put them on a bar stool in front of a slot machine or card game. Losing money hurts the bottom line either way, folks.

If Arkansans want their roads better, why not provide the money directly to the Arkansas Department of Transportation, local road departments and city street departments? Why do we need a middle man, who plans to take a huge cut of the money spent, before sending pennies on the dollar toward highways, bridges and roads?

Commentary on 08/20/2018

Print Headline: Collusion for casinos?

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