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Sports betting simplified
Arkansas voters opted in November 2018 to legalize retail sports betting at up to four locations in the state. The Arkansas Racing Commission regulates the activity.
Online sports betting became available in early 2022 following the adoption of new rules by the Arkansas Racing Commission. The state’s casinos can partner with up to two online sportsbooks. In addition, Arkansas taxes sports betting revenue at a rate of 51%.
A lobbyist for the sportsbooks attempted to persuade the racing commission that the rate was overly restrictive. Representatives for the state’s casinos fought back and cited New York’s model as a counterexample to the claim that such a high rate was unworkable. The latter argument won the day, and the rules moved forward in their most recent incarnation.
State of Arkansas Sports Betting Overview
Sports betting has been legal in Arkansas since November 2018 and is available at the state’s three casinos and three online sportsbooks. Other than three mobile sportsbooks in Arkansas, bettors can place bets in person at any of three retail sportsbooks in the state. Each book is located at one of Arkansas’ three casinos. A fourth casino, under construction in Pope County, is also planning to include a retail sportsbook. Bettors can wager from anywhere in the state with these three operators.
Arkansans have been able to play daily fantasy sports contests legally for several years. Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed off on HB 2250 in April 2017 to allow DFS sites to operate legally in the state. Top DFS providers like DraftKings and FanDuel have been part of the landscape ever since.
The legalization was the first in 2017 and the ninth overall. For the most part, the law does not include many restrictions or consumer protections for participating in the contests. DFS sites must pay a flat 8% tax to the state, and that’s the primary mission of the four-page act.
State of Arkansas Sports Betting Timeline
Arkansas’ experience with sports betting has been a slow burn. Voters approved the activity in November 2018 as a constitutional amendment. Oaklawn accepted the first wager in July 2019. Here’s a rundown of all the relevant moves that have led to this point:
In 2023, Arkansas regulators more than doubled the number of sports available to bettors, adding options such as lacrosse, sailing, bowling, cornhole, and snooker to the list that books can offer.
By the end of July, Arkansas sports betting handle had already surpassed 2022’s total for the year.
In 2022, the Arkansas Racing Commission’s new rules for online sports betting received legislative approval in late February. That means mobile sports betting can launch in early March 2022.
Online sports betting launches in April 2022 with Southland’s Betly brand.
Bet Saracen launches in May and is the only other online sportsbook live in the state.
Oaklawn announced in August that it will launch online sports betting in Arkansas with Kambi.
In 2021, In-person sports betting continues to trudge forward in Arkansas at the three casino locations in the state. Construction continues on the Pope County casino, but no firm opening date for the sportsbook or the casino itself is available.
The biggest news about sports betting in Arkansas in 2021 does not come until the waning days of the year in December. The Arkansas Racing Commission passed a set of rules to regulate and manage online sports betting. The rules involve a heavy tax structure similar to that of New York and allow for the possibility of as many as eight legal online sportsbooks in the state.
In 2020, another sportsbook opened its doors for business in 2020. Southland Casino Racing accepts its first sports wager in January. It then endures a closure due to pandemic concerns before reopening in September.
No bills or legislative motions occur due to the Arkansas legislative schedule. Lawmakers meet only in odd-numbered years in the Natural State.
In 2019, Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort hosts the first legal sports bet in Arkansas history in July. Wayne Smith, Oaklawn’s general manager, kicks things off with a $5 wager on the Dallas Cowboys. Oaklawn ultimately enjoys a six-month de facto monopoly on sports betting in Arkansas. However, due to state law, people must place their bets in person at the facility in Hot Springs.
A second sports betting location goes live in Arkansas in October, in a muted context. The Saracen Casino Annex, the first phase of the new Jefferson County casino, offers a sports betting kiosk for players to make their wagers. To this day, service at Saracen continues in this fashion.
Some Arkansas lawmakers are rumbling about revising the law to include online sports betting. State Sen. Will Bond introduces SB 669 as a law to permit “licensed on-site and electronic wagering on athletic events by certain entities.” The bill did not go far and died within a month of its introduction in April.
In 2018, voters approved Arkansas Issue 4 on the November ballot. The measure, an initiated constitutional amendment, permits the introduction of sports betting to the state’s two casino locations as part of a broader gambling expansion. There is no provision for online sports betting in the measure, however. All wagers must be in person. The initiative also calls for the creation of two new casinos in Jefferson and Pope counties, each with its sportsbook. The Jefferson location has since opened as the Saracen Casino Resort, and the Pope County property is still under construction as the River Valley Casino.