On June 15, 1836, after a difficult 25-hour session, the 24th US Congress officially declared Arkansas the 25th state, welcoming over 60,000 residents into the Union. Almost 183 years later, over 870,00 Arkansas voters would vote on an amendment to the state constitution to allow licenses for sports betting to be issued, officially making Arkansas the 9th state to legalize retail sports betting in the US. In less than a year, the first in-person wager was placed at Oaklawn Racetrack and Casino. While a big step, there was still more to do: online sports betting.
The rich Arkansas sports landscape offers bettors in the Natural State a chance to get in on some in-state rivalries as well as regional and nationally televised matchups. The Arkansas Razorbacks have been a staple in the college football and basketball scene for years, and now fans will be able to place wagers from within the Bud Walton Arena.
With its three million residents and four of its neighboring states still without an online sports betting industry, Arkansas is primed to become a fantastic new feather in the cap of the online sportsbook world. Renewed efforts in 2021/22 have crossed the line – online betting is approved, the rules are agreed, now we’re just waiting for the first Arkansas online sportsbooks to hit the market. While we wait, let’s take a look at what the industry will look like – from start to finish, top to bottom.
How sports betting came to Arkansas
In 2018, following the Supreme Court’s move to strike down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, or PASPA for short, Arkansas’ state legislature began working to allow sports betting in the state. The following November, voters were asked to vote on an amendment that would allow full casino operations and in-person sports betting at four sites in the state.
The amendment, which passed 54-46, allowed Oaklawn and Southland to begin casino operations. A year later, Oaklawn would accept the first legal sports wager in Arkansas, sparking the possibility for the online industry to follow.
The bill known as HB 1942, introduced by State Representative Lee Johnson, would allow online sports betting operators into the state via its established land-based casinos, and was introduced as a Hail Mary attempt in 2021. With only ten days left until the adjournment of Arkansas’ legislation, the bill was passed on, with state representatives adding that they didn’t have enough time to properly go over the bill’s finer details. At the time, it appeared that mobile betting efforts were stuck in the Red River mud.
However, like all good Hail Mary tales, the chance for online sports betting wasn’t over yet. In late December of 2021, the Arkansas Racing Commission (ARC) voted unanimously to approve rules governing online and mobile sports wagering, paving the way for mobile sportsbooks to operate in the state.
The Racing Commission’s rules include provisions regarding the number of skins allowed to retail operators, and most importantly to Arkansas bettors, a change in the rules regarding collegiate wagering.
One of the reasons for the ARC’s decision to push forward may be due to the increasing amount of revenue seen in the state from sports betting. In 2020, the first-year Arkansas casinos were allowed to accept in-person wagers, $33 million in bets were placed with Arkansas borders. In 2021, things did not slow down, as the amount of money wagered in Arkansas nearly doubled to 60 million. If that pattern continues, Arkansas can expect to see some exponential growth in revenue over the next few years, and mobile betting is the rocket fuel that can take those numbers to the moon. To put it simply if Arkansas had $90 million wagered over two years, solely on in-person wagers, imagine what can happen when the entire state has a sportsbook right in there pocket.
Opponents of mobile sports wagering in Arkansas pointed to the fact that the Racing Commission is an unelected body and shouldn’t have the final say in any matters outside their jurisdiction. Citing this decision as an overreach, some opposition groups might just have to take their ball and go home.
Next, the rules adopted by the ARC needed to be reviewed and approved by a legislative subcommittee, which took place in early 2022. The rules got the go-ahead on February 17th, officially placing Arkansas on a crash course for Spring ’22 mobile launch.
Currently, as the rules were agreed, Arkansas online sports betting operators will be required to share “at least 51%” of mobile betting revenue that comes by way of their partnership with the casino. In the past, other states like Michigan have added a tethering component to their regulations but have allowed casinos and sportsbook operators to negotiate those deals privately, away from the government’s supervision. It’s still unclear if this will impact the growth of a mobile sportsbook industry in Arkansas in a significant way – but if New York is any indication – it’s probably not a major concern.
Current gambling facilities located in Arkansas
Retail Sportsbook Casino Partner Launch Date
Oaklawn Sportsbook Oakland Racing Casino Resort July 2019
Betly Sportsbook at Southland Casino Southland Casino & Racing September 2020
Saracen Sportsbook Saracen Casino Resort October 2020
Potential sportsbook operators in the Natural State
While we still don’t know which national sportsbooks operators are going to plant their roots in Arkansas, the big players in the game are always hungry for expansion. Here’s a look at the potential mobile sportsbook operators that we believe may have their sights set on Arkansas.
FanDuel made the jump into the online sportsbook world in 2018, when they opened up shop in New Jersey, after becoming a household name in daily fantasy sports. Like other operators with daily fantasy experience, FanDuel has the advantage of brand recognition and a fan base that’s already been grown over the years. But FanDuel doesn’t stop there. With a sleek interface, fantastic customer service, and lightning-quick settlement times, FanDuel is one of the top players in the industry for a reason.
If you haven’t seen a DraftKings Sportsbook commercial in the last few years, then you need to readjust your television. The Boston-based company that built their kingdom on daily fantasy sports pivoted quickly to allow sports betting on a cutting-edge mobile app and a command center desktop site. DraftKings easily is one of the most recognizable brands in daily fantasy sports and has a track record of being one of the first sportsbooks through the door of every new state. If Arkansas announces a sports betting launch, the odds are good that DraftKings will be there on opening day.
Julius Caesar is one of the most well-known rulers in history, and the Roman Empire made discoveries and innovations that we still rely on today. In the gaming industry, Caesars Sportsbook is no different. When moving to the digital era, Caesars purchased the world-renowned William Hill sportsbook and created an online interface that feels modern, fresh, and user-friendly. With a bevy of spokespeople from the Manning Family to Henrik Lundqvist, Caesars has made their presence known with memorable commercials starring comedian JB Smoove as Caesar and Academy Award winner Halle Berry as Cleopatra.
While the other three sportsbooks mentioned above may be more familiar to the average sports bettor, BetRivers is slowly making a name for itself as one of the big players in the industry. With operations in a handful of states, BetRivers prides itself on bringing some of the best promos and bonuses to its customers whenever possible. BetRivers’ low bonus wagering requirement and wide range of betting opportunities had made them a growing name in a growing landscape.
TwinSpires is well-known for its online horse betting offerings, taking its name from the iconic design of parent company Churchill Downs’ famous grandstand, and has been climbing the ranks of the mobile betting world. If TwinSpires can read the tea leaves and see a road for mobile horse racing wagers, they could invest heavily in their presence in Arkansas.
While not a big online sportsbook player as the others mentioned above, Betly is a potential player in the online sports betting market being forged in Arkansas. Currently, Betly is the only multi-state brand to already be established within an Arkansas retail space after partnering with Southland Racing and Casino. If Betly can step up their digital sportsbook game, they may be able to capitalize on their familiarity with their Arkansas clientele, but we have yet to see Betly get to that level so far.
Arkansas has a rich sporting history
Despite falling somewhere in the middle of multiple professional fandoms, Arkansas still has a rich sports history, especially at the collegiate level. The Arkansas Razorbacks have been a force in college athletics for the last 50+ years. Going all the way back to 1969 and the “Game of the Century” between the Razorbacks and Texas Longhorns, Arkansas has been at the forefront of America’s fiercest conferences, namely the former Southwestern Conference and their current home, the SEC. With long-standing rivalries in both collegiate football, basketball, and baseball, both at Division 1 and Division 2 levels, fans will be ecstatic to be able to wager on their school.
Prior to the ARC’s mobile betting guidelines, Arkansas residents were barred from wagering on college sports teams, regardless of their location. But, rather than fight with schools that do not wish to have wagering allowed on their games, Arkansas has offered an olive branch. Some states have seen opposition from universities, like Ohio, for instance, who have fought a group of schools attempts to block collegiate wagering from moving forward. Arkansas nipped the problem in the bud by adding a provision allowing schools to opt out of wagering for specific events.
Arkansas may not seem like the land of milk and honey for professional sports offerings to the average sports fan. However, much like the natural wonders found in Arkansas, both above and below, you can find a whole new world of possibilities if you look a little closer.
Tourist sports betting in Arkansas: Wonders above and below
Arkansas has plenty to offer those interested in visiting the state, which is fantastic news to operators intending to begin accepting wagers in the Natural State. While athletic tourism is surely a draw, with SEC fans and other college supporters traveling to Fayetteville, Little Rock, and other university hubs to see their school, single sporting events are not the whole story. Arkansas has hosted many collegiate conference and national championships for other athletics like gymnastics. The point is, there’s more to Arkansas’ college sports than football and basketball.
For horse racing enthusiasts, the Arkansas Derby is well worth your while. A race with over 85+ years of history has had some famous winners over the years. Perhaps the most famous winner of Oaklawn’s long-running race is American Pharoah, who won the 2015 running of the Arkansas Derby and then went on to win the first Triple Crown the sport had seen in 37 years. You simply never know what kind of history you may see at Oaklawn.
One of the biggest draws for travelers heading to Arkansas is the vast natural beauty that remains untouched by human development. Arkansas is home to some of the country’s best hiking, freshwater fishing, mountain biking, and spelunking, otherwise known as cave exploration. It’s no surprise that Arkansas is referred to as the Natural State when visitors are truly surrounded by natural beauty at every turn.
Another interesting part that Arkansas plays in our everyday life is as a part of a popular travel route for those taking a cross-country trip. Depending on where you’re coming from and where you are going, some navigational systems will send travelers directly through President Bill Clinton’s home state. Now, while those travelers may not be staying the night or spending the evening in one of Little Rock’s new and exciting restaurants, it only takes a few steps to place a wager. Even if you’re temporarily inside of Arkansas for just moments – you can legally bet while you’re there.
Plus, while sports betting has taken a strong foothold in some areas of the country – this is not necessarily one of them. There’s no online sports betting options in Mississippi, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and most importantly – Texas. There will unquestionably be an uptick in sports betting tourism as residents of nearby states scoot across the border to place legal bets.
Potential sports offered at Arkansas Sportsbooks
While we’re still technically in a pre-launch phase, we now have a good idea of what may be coming soon to the state or Arkansas. Here’s a sample of some popular sports that Arkansas will offer:
- Basketball (NBA and NCAA)
- Football (NFL and NCAA)
When your state is home to the World Championship Cardboard Boat Races, it’s more than likely that your residents have some unique wagering tastes. Luckily, online sportsbooks have been able to satisfy those with specific interests. While a majority of Americans may have overlooked such sporting events in the past, online sports betting has opened a whole new world. To give you a sense of what we’re talking about, here’s a list of the new and exciting opportunities Arkansas residents may be able to wager on:
- Australian Rules Football
- Table Tennis
Bet types you may see in Arkansas
When sports betting launches in a new state, it’s not just seasoned bettors that rejoice; it’s new bettors that can finally get into the fun who benefit too! But what kinds of bets can you place in Arkansas? How can you tell? Online sportsbooks work tirelessly to provide their customers with the most up-to-date odds, the most innovative prop bets, and unique wagers they can find. In most cases, if you can think it, you can wager on it. But, in the interim, here are the bet types we believe you’ll be able to make in Arkansas when online betting gets the greenlight:
- Point spread
- Prop bets
- Parlay (could possibly include single-game parlays)
- Round robin
- Live/in-game wagers
Potential Arkansas sportsbook promotions and bonuses
Every time an online sportsbook opens, a new bettor gets an avalanche of fantastic promotions and bonuses. For every new state an operator opens up in, a new competition for wagers springs up. After all, as a sports bettor, the greatest power you have is choice. So, when choosing which sportsbook to place your bets with, it’s important to see what they can offer you. Promotions we’ve seen in the past from other states include, but are not limited to:
- Risk-free bet
- Deposit match
- Free bet credit
- Merchandise giveaways
- Odds boosts
- Deposit bonus
- And more!
Arkansas sports betting banking options
Unlike placing an in-person bet at a sportsbook, you’ll need to deposit funds into your account from your phone or computer. How does that work? Thankfully, online sportsbooks have banking down to a science. With a ton of different ways to fund your account, picking an option to use is almost the most difficult decision you have to make! Each licensed operator will have their own set of banking options, but here’s a cross-section of some of the most popular methods over the years:
- Online banking
- VIP Preferred ACH eCheck
- Play+ branded prepaid card
- Paper checks mailed to you
- Wire transfer
- Cash at the casino cage
- And more!
A brief history of gambling in Arkansas
While other states have always prohibited gambling of any kind, Arkansas dealt with the concept early on in its statehood. The Arkansas Constitution of 1874 specifically prohibited lotteries in all forms throughout the state. However, entrepreneurs took advantage of the lack of definition given to establish what a lottery was and used that leverage to open up horse racing operations throughout the state.
Sportsman’s Park became the first racetrack within the state, swiftly followed by Essex Park and Oaklawn Park, the oldest racetrack in the state that is still operating today. In the century between then and now, Arkansas approved a state lottery, greyhound racing, electronic games of skill (different from slot machines), and daily fantasy sports, the latter of which moved into the state in 2017.
Today, the only race track still standing is Oaklawn Park, but others have taken root in place of those that have closed up shop. Along with the Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort located in Hot Springs, Arkansas, has added Saracen Casino Resort in Pine Bluff and Southland Casino Racing which is located in West Memphis, which for those unfamiliar with the territory, is actually the name of a town in Arkansas.
In 2018, when the Supreme Court struck down PASPA, Arkansas quickly put together a ballot question asking their citizens to vote yes or no on expanding casino licenses to four operators. Those four operators included Oaklawn, Southland, and two new casinos, one in Pine Bluff, which would be Saracen Casino Resort, and a fourth in Pope County that ran into some legal issues before getting off the ground.
On April 1, 2019, the first legal wager was placed at Oaklawn, and the rest, as they say, is history. Following the success of in-person wagering, members of the Arkansas legislature put together a bill (HB 1942) to set up regulations for mobile sports betting. Despite the bill getting passed without a vote, the momentum generated remained. In December 2021, the meat and potatoes of the bill would eventually be revised and adopted by the Arkansas Racing Commission, paving the way for Arkansas casinos to accept mobile sports wagers.