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Arkansas, for about half a century starting in the 1920s, had casino gambling in its own mini-version of Las Vegas in Garland County, where it was easy to get into hot water both physically and fiscally.

Hot Springs has been synonymous with gambling for much of its history. Its rogue status as Arkansas' casino capital ended in 1967 with a crackdown by Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller.

What’s the point?

A proposal to legalize “amusement machines” across the state is a further step into a culture of gambling that Arkansas does not need.

Horse racing, along with its pari-mutual wagering, has been legal at Oaklawn Park since 1904. The state went to the dogs, with betting at Southland Greyhound Park in West Memphis, in 1956.

For many years, the horse and dog races were the legal options for people wanting to scratch their gambling itch. But it wasn't enough.

Across the nation, gambling interests spread their influence. The growing presence of casino gambling in surrounding states built pressure in Arkansas: Why let people go elsewhere to lose their money? Or in advocates' more promotional language, why should Arkansas miss out on this economic development opportunity?

In 2005, the state Legislature used its own sleight of hand to authorize "electronic games of skill," a laughable distinction that nonetheless empowered Oaklawn and Southland to start looking and behaving -- or walking and quacking -- like casinos.

But it wasn't enough.

The Legislature referred a measure to legalize charitable Bingo and raffles in 2006, with 69 percent of voters saying "yes."

But it wasn't enough.

In 2008, nearly 63 percent of Arkansas voters backed a constitutional amendment pressed by then-Lt. Gov. Bill Halter as a way to fund college scholarships. Again, the argument included a plea to give people a way to keep their money in Arkansas rather than spending it on lotteries in adjacent states.

Arkansas has to keep up with the Joneses, you know? Lottery tickets -- scratch-offs and the big multi-state kind -- are now just part of everyday life in a lot of the state's convenience stores and other locations.

But it's not enough.

In 2018, gambling interests got a proposed casino amendment on the ballot. With Arkansans' approval, there are now four locations in the state -- the Hot Springs and West Memphis race tracks plus Jefferson and Pope counties -- where casinos will be built. Sure, there's resistance in Pope County, but we wouldn't bet against it becoming home to a casino.

Sports betting will be part of the mix.

Even that may not be enough.

Now comes a proposal from Arcade Arkansas, a committee that hopes it can get a constitutional amendment on the ballot next year to authorize coin-operated "amusement machines" throughout the state. Think of it as slot machines on training wheels.

Again, Arkansans will be asked to broaden the "gaming" experience in the name of higher education and even support for veterans. Who can resist?

We don't always agree with Jerry Cox, president of the conservative Family Council, but this time we think he's right. "It will turn the corner convenience store into a casino and create hangouts where people can gamble 24 hours a day," Cox said.

It is already so easy to gamble, and online gambling is becoming ubiquitous. We're not naive enough to believe Arkansas will end its role as enabler, but our state government should not aid and abet this destructive practice even further. Voters should resist spreading the gambling culture into every neighborhood.

When will enough be enough?

Commentary on 09/10/2019

Print Headline: A losing bet

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