Current Sports Betting Status: Legal And Operational
Arkansas legalized sports betting after voters supported Issue 4 in a state referendum. The result gives four casinos within the state the green light to offer sports wagering. Arkansas is the second state in its region to legalize sports betting and the seventh state outside of Nevada to pass a sports betting law.
The first legal sports betting in Arkansas launched in July of 2019. The amendment automatically granted sports betting licenses to the existing Oaklawn Jockey Club and the Southland Racing Corporation. Under the amendment, both Southland and Oaklawn have approval for sports betting at their current facilities or adjacent to them. As of now, only Oaklawn has taken advantage of this new freedom and offers sports betting in their Hot Springs, Arkansas location. The amendment also allows for the award of two additional gambling licenses. These will require an application fee and have yet to be determined. The application fee must be less than $250,000 and the location of the two sports betting licensed casinos is limited to:
- “Pope County within two miles of Russellville,”
- “Jefferson County within two miles of Pine Bluff.”
Gambling taxes will be 13 percent for net revenues up to $150 million and 20 percent for revenues above that. These rates hit the sweet spot which both maximizes state revenues and encourages the most people to leave black market sites. Online and mobile sports betting have not been legalized. The Arkansas Racing Commission will regulate sports betting in the State.
Arkansas has a long history with gambling and once rivaled Las Vegas in terms of casino gaming in the1930s. Most of the action revolved around Hot Springs where there were almost a dozen gambling establishments. The gambling industry faded in the post-war era and a conservative movement all but forced casinos underground. Horse racing in the state dates back to 1929 with greyhound racing being established in 1957. Arkansas’ two tracks were permitted to offer video poker, slots, and tables that required skill in 2005 before adding games of chance in 2012. Online gambling is still quite restricted in Arkansas with the state’s residents and visitors permitted to only wager on racing via mobile devices or on the internet at either of the race tracks: Oaklawn Racing & Gaming and Southland Park Gaming & Racing. In November 2018, Arkansas voters approved “Issue 4” which was a constitutional amendment that allowed expanded gambling, including sports betting, to four counties of “The Natural State”. Betting on sporting events was specifically included under current laws of permissible casino gaming, meaning legal sports betting became effective immediately after the vote. However, the timeline for each gaming establishment has been different. In March of 2019, Southland Park Gaming and Racing sent out a tweet claiming that their BetLucky Sportsbook was coming soon. In that same month, their parent company (Delaware North) was going through a contract dispute with their third party sports betting vendor. The result of the dispute saw the indefinite suspension of sports betting at two West Virginia properties and has hauled any sports betting expansion within their Arkansas property. An official sportsbook launch date has yet to be set for Southland. In June of 2019, the Arkansas Racing Commission approved the construction of a Jefferson County casino to the Quapaw Nation. The casino is expected to cost $350 million and will take 18 months to fully develop and open. The Quapaw Nation will also have the ability to offer sports betting once they open. The Arkansas Racing Commission also approved the sports wagering operations at Oaklawn in that same June meeting. On July 1st, Southland launched the very first sportsbook in Arkansas. They offer full-service sports betting but only on-site. Pope County is still currently in a battle to figure out who will be awarded the state’s final casino license. Gulfside Casino was denied by the Arkansas Racing Commission despite having a letter of endorsement from local officials in December of 2018. Their appeal was also denied due to the fact that those local officials are no longer in office. They are now filing a lawsuit against the Arkansas Racing Commission. Current local officials sent a letter of endorsement to the Commission in August 2019 on behalf of the Cherokee Nation Businesses. However, because they didn’t follow a local ordinance and put the decision up to a local vote, they are being sued as well. The Arkansas Racing Commission reopened a 90-day window in August to accept new casino applications. A definitive timeline for when sports betting will come to the area is unclear.