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Arkansas Casino Official Pursuing Online Casino, Requests Rule Changes

Written By Katarina Vojvodic | Updated:
Hands Hold Sign Reads Change Request

An executive at one of Arkansas’ three land-based casinos is interested in expanding its gaming options for players and has sent an official request to the state regulators.

Carlton Saffa, chief market officer at Saracen Casino Resort in Pine Bluff, wrote a letter to the Arkansas Racing Commission (ARC) Chairman, Alex Lieblong, requesting a rule change.

Besides Saracen, Arkansas is also home to two other land-based casinos:

  • Southland Casino Hotel in West Memphis
  • Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort in Hot Springs

Legal US online casino states are New Jersey, Delaware, Connecticut, Michigan, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, with Rhode Island recently becoming the seventh. If Arkansas does eventually allow online gambling, it would be the first in its region to offer the activity.

Saracen Casino asked the Commission to add other already authorized games

The Commission’s Rule 5 already authorizes online poker, but no casinos currently offer that gaming option. Arkansas already allows online poker, but such games haven’t been available to players.

Saffa asked the Commission to add other already authorized games in his letter. According to the news article by, Saffa wrote:

“Most importantly, amending Rule 5 [to add additional games] would provide a legitimate alternative to those already imposing their products onto Arkansas consumers, without regard for your standards of operation and without regard to your rules regarding minors placing bets.”

Saffa reportedly told that he hoped to appear before the Commission on May 6.

Legal online gambling in Arkansas would combat offshore casinos

Saffa also emphasized that allowing these additional games would conflict with illegal offshore casinos that advertise unregulated online gaming.

If ARC would approve online casinos in Arkansas, Saffa says it would add more than $20 million to state coffers, bringing in:

  • $12 million in additional state gaming tax revenue
  • $3.7 million in purse support to the Oaklawn Jockey Club
  • $5.6 million going to the books in Pine Bluff and Jefferson County

Saffa concluded that legalizing online casinos in the state would make it easier to identify those with gambling problems. He also said online gambling is not to impact or cannibalize gaming at the brick-and-mortar casinos.

The ARC says it not considering the expansion of gaming beyond the current rules

Arkansas casinos can offer online sports betting, while games like slots, blackjack and craps must be played only in physical facilities.

Arkansas is unique, as the Arkansas Racing Commission can draft and approve rules for the new gaming. However, any proposed rule changes must go through a legislative committee.

Scott Hardin from the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration told PlayUSA:

“The Arkansas Racing Commission has the authority and can change its rules. Those rule changes must be reviewed by a legislative committee. The rule changes are also coordinated with the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration and the Governor’s Office. The process is not independent of the state legislature.

The Racing Commission will meet May 6 to take steps toward launching a new application period for the remaining casino license which will be the fourth and final casino in the state. The online gaming proposal will not be considered.”

As the Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration, Jim Hudson, also confirmed: “We are not considering the expansion of gaming beyond the current rules. This includes offering games online.”

Arkansas has been struggling to add a fourth casino

After several delays, the ARC approved proposed revisions of its rules in March to start accepting new applications for a fourth casino in Pope County. It is the Commission’s third attempt to issue the final Arkansas casino license.

The Commission intends to initiate the process in May, pending legislative approval. The current rules indicate that the ARC will accept applications for a casino license within a 30-day timeframe, starting on the date set by the Commission. The rules also say that no applications will be accepted after that period unless they provide an “except for a good cause shown.”

Once the Arkansas legislature approves the rules, an application window could be set. Deputy Attorney General Doralee Chandler told commissioners that it would probably happen “before summer’s end.”

While the third license to Saracen Casino Resort was issued quickly, the Pope County license faced challenges. Local efforts opposed the casino, and multiple operators were interested in the license.

Photo by Dizain777 |
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Katarina Vojvodic

Katarina Vojvodic is a lead writer for PlayUSA who lives in Toronto. Vojvodic provides coverage of the US gambling industry with a focus on US online casinos. Previously, she covered Ontario’s online gambling industry for Vojvodic holds a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Belgrade. Outside working hours, she can be found near the water with her husband and their two kids.

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