Arkansas has traditionally opposed most forms of gambling and seemed to have little appetite to change that until a November 2018 ballot measure was approved, allowing up to four casinos to offer gambling and sports betting.
Two existing racetracks already offer slots, electronic table games and electronic poker, but those tracks have since been authorized to expand their gaming options, including sports betting. Soon, Arkansans will be able to bet on sports at both racetracks and eventually at two additional locations.
Online betting is currently restricted to horse racing, greyhound racing and fantasy sports. The state does not regulate online poker sites or casinos and has no plans in place to change that. Online sports betting does not seem very likely – at least right now, but the Arkansas Racing Commission will have the final say on that.
Best Arkansas Betting Sites
Horse and Greyhound Betting:
Arkansas Sports Betting
Arkansas legalized sports betting in November 2018 through a statewide ballot measure asking voters if they approve an amendment to bring sports betting to four pre-selected locations. Those locations include:
- Southland Racing & Gaming in West Memphis
- Oaklawn Racing & Gaming in Hot Springs
- One yet-to-be-built casino in Pope county within two miles of Russellville
- One yet-to-be-built casino in Jefferson County within two miles of Pine Bluff
The two racetracks received an automatic sports betting license with the passage of the amendment while the other two locations will have to be applied for by gaming companies interested in opening a casino.
According to the amendment text, the Arkansas Racing Commission is to regulate sports betting and will oversee the licensing process. Licenses for the two additional casinos are not to exceed $250,000, but the commission will have broad authorities beyond that in terms of managing the application process and determining the rules for sports betting.
The measure has also established tax rates for all four casinos: they will be taxed at a rate of 13% on the first $150,000,000 of net gaming receipts and 20% on net gaming receipts exceeding $150,000,001. Taxes collected by the state are to be distributed as follows:
- 55% to the state general revenue fund
- 5% to the city in which the casino is located, unless the casino is not located in a city. In that case 19.5% goes to the county in which the casino is located
- 5% to the Arkansas Racing Commission for distribution to horse and greyhound racing purses
- 8% to the county in which the casino is located
When Does Sports Betting Begin in Arkansas?
Sports betting is now officially on the books in Arkansas, but it will still be some time before the first legal wagers can be placed. The November 2018 ballot measure gave the Arkansas Racing Commission 120 days to form the regulations that will govern sports betting. The Commission must figure put forth regulations dealing with licensing, integrity and oversight, recordkeeping requirements and much more in order to effectively govern sports betting.
Additionally, Southland and Oaklawn still need to build their sportsbooks, hire staff, get the necessary technology in place and so on so they can be ready to accept wagers. All told, we’re probably looking at a timeline in the range of months starting from the November election.
Southland and Oaklawn will most likely be first-to-market in Arkansas due to being granted automatic sports betting licenses and already having facilities in place. The other two locations will be starting from scratch, beginning with interested operators applying for a license before breaking ground on construction.
Is Online Sports Betting Legal in Arkansas?
This remains a bit of an open question because online sports betting was not specifically addressed in the November 2018 ballot measure. The fate of online betting will likely be found in the regulations issued by the Arkansas Racing Commission.
However, we can look at the text of the measure and amendment for clues to the answer. The amendment defines casino gambling as follows:
“…dealing, operating, carrying on, conducting, maintaining, or exposing for play any game played with cards, dice, equipment, or any mechanical, electromechanical, or electronic device or machine for money, property, checks, credit, or any representative value. Casino gaming shall also be defined to include accepting wagers on sporting events.”
We can see here that the definition of casino gaming clearly includes sports betting as well as games played via “any mechanical, electromechanical or electronic device,” which could be interpreted to include online sports betting.
The amendment also clearly states that gambling is “to be conducted at four casinos in Arkansas.” This bit of text seems to push back against the idea of mobile wagers being accepted from anywhere in the state – all wagering is to be conducted AT the casinos.
However, the wording does leave some wiggle room if Arkansas Racing Commission officials are motivated to authorize online sports betting. For instance, the Commission could make the argument that wagers taken online are still conducted by the casino and therefore are conducted AT the casino.
All speculation aside, it’s just hard telling which way this goes. Past experience based on following other state efforts to legalize sports betting has us leaning towards Arkansas first getting situated with in-person wagering before considering online betting. We should get a clearer picture on this after the Commission publicizes its sports betting regulations.
As more information comes out regarding timelines and casino plans, we’ll update this page with all the details.
Horse Racing Betting in Arkansas
Arkansas is home to two major racetracks: Oaklawn Racing for horse racing and Southland Park for greyhounds. Both tracks host live events and accept parimutuel wagers on all upcoming races. Bets can be placed in-person at both or online at any licensed horse racing website.
OaklawnAnywhere.com accepts wagers over the internet but there are a few other options for internet horse wagering. Oaklawn Anywhere works well enough, but the above sites have a much wider selection of betting options, handicapping tools and racetracks to choose from. All are licensed in the United States and are legal places to bet real money.
Online horse betting is exempt from federal anti-betting laws and is therefore legal in most states. Arkansas authorizes licensed websites to offer wagers to players residing in the state. Betting at any legal racing website is as simple as choosing a track, selecting a race and then filling out an electronic betting slip.
If you don’t live near one of the state’s two racetracks, online betting is a convenient alternative to making the drive. You can fund your account with a credit card, echeck or money order and be ready to go in minutes. All racing activities in Arkansas are regulated by the state Racing Commission.
Online fantasy sports betting was declared a game of skill under the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006. This makes it legal in all states except those that have additional legislation that make it illegal to wager money on anything. There are a few states in the Union with such laws on the books but Arkansas is not one of those.
Arkansas recognized daily fantasy sports and formally legalized the activity in 2017 to remove any possible ambiguity. Governor Asa Hutchinson signed HB 2250 into law in April of 2017 after the bill easily cleared house and senate votes earlier that year.
HB 2250 is a bit different than legislation enacted in other states in that it does not specify any new regulations specific to fantasy beyond defining what a legal fantasy contest is and enacting an 8% tax rate on DFS operators.
For those unfamiliar with fantasy sports betting, this is the game in which you draft a team of players from around the league. Each player has an associated cost based on his recent performance and you have a salary cap that limits how much you can spend in total. Your goal as a player is to draft the most effective team possible given the virtual salary cap.
Your fantasy team accumulates points based on how well your picks perform in the real world. If your running back rushes for 150 yards and 2 touchdowns, for example, you get a bunch of points for your team. This same process is applied to every member of your team. The person whose team ends up with the most points wins the contest.
Fantasy sports sites typically host week-long leagues. In the NFL, for example, a typical contest includes all games running from Sunday through Monday evening. You can play in heads-up contests against one other person or in large leagues that consist of hundreds (or thousands) of fantasy teams. Prizes range from a few dollars to several million dollars depending on the number of participants.
All in all, fantasy betting is a lot of fun. It’s similar to traditional sports betting in that it requires a deep knowledge of the game to do well. It’s different than traditional betting in that it is perfectly legal online. This is a seriously fun way to put your sports knowledge to the ultimate test. You can get started for just a few bucks and all the major sites accept deposits via credit card, debit card and PayPal.
Poker is heavily restricted in the state of Arkansas. Southland Park has a nice little table room with Texas Holdem and Omaha cash games and tournaments. Apart from that, there isn’t much in the way of legal poker options. Arkansas law bans betting on almost everything if it doesn’t happen at a racetrack or approved betting site.
A.C.A. 5-66-112 of the Arkansas Code has this to say on the matter:
If a person bets any money or any valuable thing on any game of brag, bluff, poker, seven-up, three-up, twenty-one, vingt-et-un, thirteen cards, the odd trick, forty-five, whist, or at any other game of cards known by any name now known to the law or with any other or new name or without any name, upon conviction he or she is guilty of a violation and shall be fined in any sum not less than ten dollars ($10.00) nor more than twenty-five dollars ($25.00).
The penalty isn’t overly harsh but it does clearly indicate the state’s stance on participating in real money poker games. The code also has laws that make it a crime to operate a “gambling house” as a Class D felony punishable by up to 6 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
In theory, it is illegal to play online poker in Arkansas or even participate in social games with your friends. These laws are not regularly enforced and authorities seem keener on cracking down on those who operate underground poker games rather than the individual players.
Many people play online poker from Arkansas at offshore sites despite the potential $25 fine. The state isn’t interested in raiding people who play games in private at home. The biggest issue for players is simply finding a place to play. Because there is no licensing body for online poker, players who choose to play online must play at unregulated sites hosted overseas.
Gambling in Arkansas
Arkansas has two land-based casinos attached to racetracks and zero online casinos. These casinos were at one time restricted “electronic games of skill” that resemble blackjack and poker except the players manipulate their bets with virtual chips on tablets placed in front of them on the table.
However, that changed with the passage of the November 2018 ballot measure that also legalized sports betting in Arkansas. Under the referendum, authorized casinos in Arkansas to offer all forms of gambling and sports betting to customers age 21 or older.
The same law that authorized electronic table games also appears to outlaw online casinos in Arkansas. This particular piece of text appears to criminalize online poker and casino games hosted anywhere outside of authorized racetracks:
No one other than the Franchise Holder and its employees (and patrons playing the game) may operate the electronic games of skill. The games may not be located in a place other than the grounds of the Franchise Holder’s facility, as approved by the Commission.
The Arkansas Scholarship Lottery was established in 2009 as the state’s first official lottery. As the name indicates, the lottery is used to raise funds for sending kids to college. It has already awarded 133,000 scholarships in the handful of years it has been in operation.
Lottery tickets cannot be purchased online or in the mail and the state does not authorize third parties to sell tickets or subscriptions over the internet. If you see a website that promises to purchase tickets on your behalf, know that it is completely unregulated and there are no guarantees you’ll be paid.
You may see references to “online” tickets but this term is used to describe tickets that are purchased from machines at authorized retailers. These machines are connected to the central lottery system and generate tickets without a human attendant.