If you are a sports bettor in Arkansas, welcome. You are in the right place to find out everything you ever wanted to know about sports betting in Arkansas.
Arkansas voters approved sports betting as part of a comprehensive gambling expansion measure on the November 2018 ballot. Fifty-four percent of respondents voted to allow sports betting at the state’s two racinos. They also voted to allow sports betting (and other casino games) to take place at two new casinos that didn’t even exist at that point.
Curiously, however, the new law stopped short of allowing online sports betting to proceed in Arkansas. There are still efforts in the state Legislature to bring online sports betting to Arkansas, but it will come no sooner than two years after Arkansans and their visitors have had to get in their cars to place a sports bet.
Nevertheless, in-person sports betting is legal in Arkansas. Read on for all the latest about Arkansas sports betting, along with details about how it works, how you can take part and how we got here.
Is sports betting legal in Arkansas?
Yes. Sports betting is legal in Arkansas. You can place wagers at Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort’s sportsbook, Southland Casino Racing’s sportsbook or onsite kiosks, or the kiosk at the Saracen Casino Resort Annex.
Can you bet on sports online in Arkansas?
No. The only options to place sports wagers in Arkansas are the ones noted above. Just like with most forms of online gambling in Arkansas, state law does not permit mobile or online sports betting at this time. State lawmakers, however, are not oblivious to this. There are both past and present bills in recent years that have sought to expand Arkansas’ sports betting law either to permit “licensed on-site and electronic wagering on athletic events by certain entities (SB669 – 2019)” or provide for “regulation and oversight of the operations of online sports pools by casino licensees (HB1942 – 2021).” So far, none of these have passed, but there is hope on the horizon, at least.
Who regulates Arkansas sports betting?
Arkansas sports betting, like most other forms of legal gambling in the state, falls under the purview of the Arkansas Racing Commission. The commission regulates every new bit of gambling in the state, including sports betting, full-service casinos and the management of the new casinos’ development. Rules, licensing procedures and enforcement are all parts of the racing commission, which is, in turn, a section of the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration.
The placement of the racing commission as the de facto gambling commission in Arkansas is a function of the state’s history with gambling expansion. Many states form a dedicated gambling commission as part of their first major move to full gambling. Others choose their lottery commissions to act in this capacity, since lotteries are often the only gambling available in wagering-hostile states. State lawmakers generally like to entrust oversight to the most experienced regulators available, even if the sum total of their experience is the management of draw games and scratch-off tickets.
However, Arkansas stands out for the fact that both pari-mutuel betting and slot machines preceded lottery games in the state. A 2005 law placed “electronic games of skill” at the state’s two racetracks three years before the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery came into existence. Thanks to this, the Arkansas Racing Commission already had its feet wet when sports betting made its way onto the November 2018 ballot. Rather than stretching the resources thinner or starting from scratch, the Legislature gave the commission oversight of sports betting. We can assume that any further developments will also place regulatory authority with the commission.
Interestingly, one area related to sports betting does not fall under the Arkansas Racing Commission. Arkansas is one of a handful of states to explicitly legalize daily fantasy sports contests. 2017’s Act 1075 placed the responsibility for monitoring and licensing DFS companies like DraftKings and FanDuel with the Department of Finance and Administration in general, rather than with the specific arm of the agency. With that said, part of the language of the law specifically classified DFS as a non-gambling activity, so it is probably more consistent with that line of thought to keep DFS away from the racing commission.
How old do I have to be to bet on sports in Arkansas?
You must be at least 21 to bet on sports in Arkansas. The Arkansas casino gambling rules are quite explicit on the age requirement for placing a sports bet in the state. Although pari-mutuel and lottery players need to only be 18, sports betting falls under the umbrella of casino gambling in the eyes of state law.
Also, be aware that Saracen Casino Resort is bound by this requirement, even though it is a tribal location. Many tribal casinos have sovereignty over their lands and can ignore edicts from the state, provided that those edicts aren’t in the tribe’s compact with the state. However, even though Saracen is a tribal casino, its function is more like a typical commercial property due to the fact that its owner, the Quapaw Nation, is merely a landowner in Arkansas; the casino is not on a reservation.
Where can I place legal sports bets in Arkansas?
In Arkansas. That may sound like a stupidly obvious thing to say, but one of the questions that pops up often about sports betting is whether you have to be inside state lines to place a bet. You do. It is a federal and state requirement that you not place interstate wagers.
At the moment, Arkansas has less concern about this requirement than other legal states. Without online sportsbooks, there’s really no way to place a wager without planting yourself inside one of the three in-state locations. However, when and if online sports betting comes to Arkansas, there will undoubtedly be requirements that the online books restrict betting to people in the state. The Interstate Wire Act prohibits any kind of sports betting over “electronic wires” and across state lines.
To ensure compliance, every sportsbook employs geolocation verification software to pinpoint your exact location. The apps will simply commandeer your phone’s onboard GPS, and computer users will have to download a geolocator to their computers, too. Failure to confirm your location will mean you can’t bet. This software is quite effective at its task, and you may even have to travel away from the border or stop moving in a car to make sure the software can verify your position.
For the time being, though, there are only three places taking sports bets in Arkansas. A fourth is under construction and should open for business in relatively short order.
Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort
- Address: 2705 Central Ave., Hot Springs, AR 71901
- Phone: 501-623-4411
- Sportsbook partner: Churchill Downs and SBTech
- Opening date: July 1, 2019
- Hours: Teller windows: Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.; kiosk: daily, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Oaklawn’s sportsbook was the first to open in Arkansas and was probably the most obvious choice to do so. Certainly, Oaklawn is the oldest and most well-known of Arkansas’ gambling facilities. The racino had offered slot machine play for more than a decade when the first sports bet took place in July 2019. The racetrack also features the most traditional sportsbook facility of the four. There are large display boards on all the walls, comfortable seating, and food and beverage options. Oaklawn also has a kiosk option if you’re in a rush.
Southland Casino Racing
- Address: 1550 North Ingram Blvd., West Memphis, AR 72301
- Phone: 800-467-6182
- Sportsbook partner: IGT
- Opening date: 31, 2020
- Hours: Teller windows: Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday to Sunday, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.; kiosk: daily, 24 hours
Southland takes a slightly different approach to sports betting than its fellow track at Oaklawn. The sportsbook is a more casual affair. There’s not so much a dedicated facility as there is an integration of sports betting within the property’s Sports Bar & Grill. The emphasis is more on a relaxed experience, with bar food, beer and slot machines available for play. Sports betting is merely something to do while you catch a game. If you want an even less formal experience, Southland also features a number of kiosks around the property that you can use to bet.
Saracen Casino Resort Annex
- Address: 1 Saracen Resort Drive, Pine Bluff, AR 71601
- Phone: 870-686-9001
- Sportsbook partner: IGT
- Opening date: 21, 2019
- Hours: Daily, 12 p.m. – 2 a.m.
If you want a sports betting experience that is more quick-stop than lounging, the option at the Saracen Casino Resort Annex is the place for you. It is rare to find the ability to bet on sports in a convenience store, but that’s exactly what’s happening off US Highway 79 (Market Street) in Pine Bluff. The facility is a former truck stop and retains much of the same sensibility. However, you can also find a fully stocked sports bar, 300 slot machines and, of course, a sports betting kiosk. In an era when millions of dollars are going to make sports betting as high-tech as possible, the kiosk option at Saracen is a refreshing change of pace.
River Valley Casino
- Address: Russellville, Arkansas
- Phone: n/a
- Sportsbook partner: Caesars
- Opening date: Still under construction
- Hours: n/a
The fourth casino location in Arkansas is still not open. The River Valley Casino continues to be under construction, with little information available about the property or the amenities that it will feature. However, the property (wherever it is) is to be owned and operated by Gulfside Casino Partners, which also owns two casinos in Mississippi. Gulfside has had a relationship with William Hill since August 2018, but now that William Hill is part of Caesars, it’s a good bet that some form of that infrastructure will assist Gulfside in Arkansas, too.
What sports can I bet on in Arkansas?
The retail sportsbooks in Arkansas offer the usual variety of professional and college sports to bet on. Here are the standard options you’re likely to find:
- Auto racing
- Mixed martial arts (MMA)
The rules specifically prohibit wagering on political elections or any “virtual event” such as simulated sports. They do, however, allow sportsbooks to submit requests for approval to accept wagers on events other than horse or dog racing or athletic contests. Such events would have to meet certain standards, like outcomes that are both verifiable and unaffected by wagering, for regulators to allow betting on them.
Betting on pro sports teams in Arkansas
Arkansas has a number of minor league professional sports teams, including two minor league baseball teams. However, the state has never had any pro teams competing in major sports leagues. The state shares borders with six other states, though, and every one of them besides Mississippi has at least one major pro team. The four major sports leagues (NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL) have the following representatives in those states:
- Louisiana — New Orleans Saints (NFL); New Orleans Pelicans (NBA)
- Missouri — Kansas City Chiefs (NFL); Kansas City Royals, St. Louis Cardinals (MLB); St. Louis Blues (NHL)
- Oklahoma — Oklahoma City Thunder (NBA)
- Tennessee — Tennessee Titans (NFL); Memphis Grizzlies (NBA); Nashville Predators (NHL)
- Texas — Dallas Cowboys, Houston Texans (NFL); Houston Astros, Texas Rangers (MLB); Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs (NBA); Dallas Stars (NHL)
Betting on college teams from Arkansas
College sports are huge in Arkansas, especially college football. The state has two football teams that compete in the NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision:
- Arkansas State Red Wolves (Sun Belt)
- Arkansas Razorbacks (SEC)
Both of those schools have Division I basketball programs, as well. In fact, the Arkansas Razorbacks won the national title in 1994. Three other Arkansas schools compete in NCAA Division I basketball:
- Arkansas at Little Rock Trojans (Sun Belt)
- Arkansas at Pine Bluff Golden Lions (SWAC)
- Central Arkansas Bears (Southland)
What types of sports bets can I place in Arkansas?
Now, let’s talk about all the different types of bets you can place at Arkansas sportsbooks:
- Moneylines: Place a bet on one side to win, regardless of how it does so. You can judge which option is the favorite based upon the negative odds number, and bet accordingly. Occasionally, two teams will be so evenly matched that you might see two negative numbers. In that case, the team with the number that’s farthest from zero is the favorite. A team at -112 is favored over a team at -108.
- Point spreads: These are wagers that involve the eventual margin of victory in a game. The sportsbook gives its estimate, and bettors wager about whether the favorite will exceed (“beat”) the spread in victory, or the underdog will lose by fewer points (“cover”) the spread. An underdog that wins the game outright automatically covers.
- Totals: Most people know about totals without realizing it. Both bettors and casual fans talk about the expected combined score as the “over/under.” However, the over/under itself is the sportsbook’s estimated total combined score. Players will bet whether the final tally will be over or under the estimate.
- Futures: A futures bet is a long-term wager, such as whether a player or team will win an award or championship after an entire season of play. Futures bets are what fans mean when they speak about “putting some money on (team)” as an expression of their support. These bets are usually difficult to win because of the number of variables in play, and the sportsbook commonly displays them as a long list of positive payout ratios.
- Propositions: Propositions, or prop bets, are wagers about specific events within a game. If you cannot classify a bet that you’re seeing in one of the categories above, it is almost certainly a prop. Most stories about crazy bets, including dares, are props. They usually boil down to a yes/no response about some facet of the game.
- Parlays: Parlays are combinations of several single wagers. If you want to bet on an entire day of games in one bet, for instance, then a parlay might be the way to go. The problem is that, in order for you to get paid, every bet that makes up the parlay must be correct. Even one wrong selection causes the entire bet to lose. Needless to say, there’s a lot of risk with parlays. However, the rewards can be quite large, too.
- Teasers and pleasers: These two bets go together because they are mirrors of each other. Both are types of parlays that you might see a sportsbook offer, although teasers are much more common. In a teaser, the sportsbook will adjust the line for every leg in your favor. This will make it easier to win. However, you will have to sacrifice some of your payout equity for the privilege. Conversely, a pleaser adjusts in favor of the sportsbook but you get a higher payout if you’re correct.
One other type of sports bet deserves mention, but you are unlikely to come across in Arkansas at this time. Live betting, or in game betting, allows you to place bets on games that are already in progress. The bets might be simple continuations of the pregame wagers, or they might be questions about the outcome of smaller periods of play or whether a player or team will achieve a certain statistic. The speed of live bets makes them hard to execute outside of online sportsbooks. It’s possible you might find a few in retail settings, but unless Arkansas decides to allow online wagers, live betting likely won’t be an option for you.
History of sports betting in Arkansas
The history of Arkansas sports betting is not a very long tale. On the other hand, the histories of most types of gambling in the Natural State are short, aside from horse racing. In fact, prior to 2005, the only types of gambling that you could undertake in Arkansas were betting the ponies, betting the puppies and a bit of bingo.
Of course, time makes all the difference, and there has been nothing short of a revolution in 21st century Arkansas with regard to gambling. Along with the new slot machines, lottery, DFS and casinos you can visit, you now can bet on sports. There are three locations inside Arkansas that are qualified to offer sports betting to the public.
All of this expansion became possible after a vote in the November 2018 election. Amid casting their votes in the midterms, 54% of Arkansans approved sports betting at the existing racetracks in the state (Oaklawn and Southland) and at two new casinos (Saracen and River Valley). The legalization became part of the Arkansas Racing Commission’s casino gambling rules and placed the task of regulation under the commission’s purview.
Interestingly, there is no provision in the 2018 ballot measure or the ensuing law to permit online sports betting. There have been and currently are efforts to change this, but so far sports betting remains an in-person activity in Arkansas. Here is a timeline of the state’s sports betting history:
- May 14, 2018 —The US Supreme Court strikes down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act on the grounds that it violates the 10th Amendment’s commandeering clause. Sports betting becomes a decision for each individual state.
- Nov. 6, 2018 — State lawmakers in Arkansas waste little time in putting the question to their constituents. Issue 4 on the November ballot asks voters to decide if they want sports betting in Arkansas (along with a list of other gambling-related issues). The voters approve the measure with 54% of the vote.
- July 1, 2019 — The first sportsbook opens at Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort. The property’s general manager, Wayne Smith, kicks off Arkansas sports betting with a $5 bet on the Dallas Cowboys to beat the 7.5-point spread versus the New York Giants in September 2019. Oaklawn would enjoy a virtual sports betting monopoly in the state for more than three months. Incidentally, Smith won his bet when the Cowboys prevailed, 35-17.
- Oct. 21, 2019 — Saracen Casino Resort opens and gives Arkansans their second option to bet on sports. With that said, sports betting remains confined to Saracen’s satellite location, the Annex, and there is only a kiosk available for wagering. Still, it is a second place to bet. Incidentally, the debut of the Saracen marked the first time a standalone casino had opened inside Arkansas. The casino is also the first property owned by tribal interests, although the Quapaw Nation bought the land as a commercial venture and is operating the property as a regular casino, rather than a tribal one.
- Jan. 31, 2020 — Southland opens its retail sportsbook just before the Super Bowl. The racino had received its permission concurrently with Oaklawn, but owner Delaware North had to navigate a long road with its technology providers to make sports betting a reality. At the heart of it was a running dispute with Miomni, Delaware North’s primary tech partner, which saw the crash of Delaware North’s first sportsbook app, BetLucky, in West Virginia. Now, with new partner IGT, DN finally brought its new program, Betly, to life, just in time for the biggest sports betting day of the year.
Arkansas is still new to sports betting specifically and gambling generally. However, the state’s shift on wagering has been nothing short of impressive. There’s still quite a bit to do — particularly with regard to online sportsbooks and live betting — but it’s a solid start. Check back here for any developments in the Natural State.