Arkansas sports betting is live. In November 2018, voters in Arkansas approved a constitutional amendment authorizing retail sports betting in the state. Sports betting officially became legal in Arkansas in July 2019.
Compared to other states with legalized sports betting, Arkansas has chosen a relatively tentative path when it comes to allowing wagering on sports in the state. The new law only permits sports betting at a maximum of four retail locations. The law also does not allow mobile or online sports betting in Arkansas. That means those who wish to bet on sports legally can only do so in person at an authorized location.
Since the law went into effect, three of the four allowed sportsbooks have opened in Arkansas, and a location for the fourth has been chosen. It is a modest start, but it means Arkansas sports bettors can legally place wagers on the Arkansas Razorbacks and their other favorite teams.
Here’s an overview of the backstory of Arkansas sports betting as well as information about what bettors can expect when wagering on sports in the Natural State.
During the 19th century, the state constitution of Arkansas prohibited lotteries but didn’t address other forms of gambling. That lack of clarity helped create conditions for gambling to thrive in the state, albeit often without specific legal sanction.
In fact, for many decades lasting well into the 20th century, the city of Hot Springs near the Ouachita Mountains was a kind of national gambling hub. As many as 10 casinos were in operation in Hot Springs, which as a result became known as the “Vegas of the South.”
Meanwhile starting around the turn of the century horse racing also became popular in the state. Located north of Hot Springs, the Oaklawn Park racetrack first opened in 1934. The Arkansas Derby first ran there a couple of years later, and continues to this day as an annual warmup for the Kentucky Derby.
Greyhound racing also became legal in the 1930s, with the popular Southland Park opening in 1956 in West Memphis.
In 1967 newly elected Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller led the charge to close the illegal casinos down. Several raids followed, with hundreds of slot machines seized and gambling equipment burned. State lawmakers responded by passing a bill to authorize limited forms of gambling, but Rockefeller vetoed it. The Legislature backed off, and Arkansas entered a four-decade stretch in which all gambling was essentially prohibited aside from horse and dog racing.
Certain forms of charitable gambling such as bingo games and raffles became legal in 2008. Arkansas also finally joined the list of states offering lotteries in 2009.
In 2017, Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed into law a bill regulating and legalizing daily fantasy sports in Arkansas.
The following year, the November ballot included an initiative on a constitutional amendment that would authorize four casinos, one each in Crittenden, Garland, Jefferson and Pope counties. The initiative, Issue 4, passed with 54% of the vote.
The Arkansas Racing Commission was subsequently charged with the task of issuing the four new casino licenses. Two automatically went to the horse track at Oaklawn and the greyhound track at Southland. Since then the other two Arkansa casino licenses have been issued, as well. Three casinos are now operating, and a fourth one is to come:
The new law also legalized retail sports betting at the same four locations. However, no mobile or online sports betting in Arkansas would be allowed. Regulators approved rules for sports betting in early 2019.
Both Oaklawn and Southland received licenses to offer sports betting without having to pay any additional licensing fee. The other two properties had to pay a $250,000 fee for the right to operate a casino, with that fee including being able to offer sports betting.
Taxes on sports betting revenue follow guidelines governing the entire casino. For each property, casino gambling receipts up to the first $150 million are taxed at 13%. Beyond $150 million, the tax rate is 20%.
The first retail sportsbook in Arkansas opened at Oaklawn in July 2019. Saracen Casino Resort followed suit by opening a sportsbook in October 2019, with Southland Casino Racing opening its sportsbook in September 2020.
There are more than 20 federally recognized Native American tribes in Arkansas. However, there are no tribal casinos per se in operation in the state.
That said, the commercial Saracen Resort Casino in Pine Bluff is located on tribal land owned by the Quapaw Nation. Its operator, Saracen Development LLC, is a Quapaw tribal entity that also operates tribal casinos in neighboring Oklahoma. The property is named in honor of Chief Saracen, who led the Quapaw tribe in the early 1800s.
As noted, sports bettors in Arkansas currently have three locations where they can bet on sports in the state, with a fourth sportsbook coming soon.
The Oaklawn Race & Sports Book located in the casino has a sportsbook lounge that opens at 8 a.m. daily and closes at either 4 or 6 a.m. Teller windows are open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. There are also kiosks available each day from 9 a.m. to 5 a.m. SBTech powers the Oaklawn sportsbook.
The Saracen Casino Annex Sportsbook, located in an annex to the casino, is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It also features kiosks, with IGT as the operator.
The betly Sportsbook at Southland Casino Racing is located at the Sports Bar & Grill in the racing mezzanine. The hours for teller windows vary, opening either at 9 or 11 a.m. and closing at 9 or 10 p.m. Meanwhile kiosks are available for placing bets from 9 a.m. to 5 a.m. each day. As the name suggests, betly operates the sportsbook with a technical partner in IGT.
Mobile sports betting is not legal in Arkansas yet, so there are no operational sportsbook apps in the state.
In early 2019, state Sen. Will Bond proposed SB 669, a bill that would permit “electronic wagering on athletic events.” If passed, the bill would have permitted online sports betting in the state. However, after its referral to a Senate committee, the bill progressed no further.
A spokesperson for the Arkansas Racing Commission in December 2019 did indicate the possibility that regulators might edit current sports betting rules to allow mobile sports betting.
Adding the online option would no doubt considerably increase sports betting revenue. States that offer both in-person and online sports betting generally see online wagering account for 80% or more of revenue.
The retail sportsbooks in Arkansas offer the usual variety of professional and collegiate sports to bet on, including popular ones like:
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 events. Such events would have to meet certain standards (e.g., the outcome is verifiable, the outcome would not be affected by wagering) for regulators to allow betting on them.
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, however, and every one of them besides Mississippi to the east has at least one major pro team. Looking only at the four major American sports leagues, those franchises are:
College sports are huge in Arkansas, especially college football. The states’ colleges and universities field two football teams that compete in the NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS):
Both of those schools have Division I basketball programs as well, with the Arkansas Razorbacks having won the national title in 1994. Three other Arkansas schools compete in NCAA Division I basketball:
As mentioned above, Arkansas legalized pari-mutuel betting on horse and dog races during the 1930s. Currently there is a single horse racing track (Oaklawn Park) and one greyhound track (Southland Park) in operation.
Off-track betting is also allowed in the state, and both Oaklawn and Southland offer wagering on simulcast races. However, there are no other dedicated OTB parlors in Arkansas.
Even so, those in the state who want to bet on horse and dog races online can do so at popular OTB sites, such as:
The sportsbooks in Arkansas invite bettors to make all of the many types of sports wagers, such as:
The minimum age to wager on sports in Arkansas is 21 years old.
The Arkansas Racing Commission oversees sports betting in the state. The commission receives and reviews applications, issues sports betting licenses, and ensures all of its rules are followed by the state’s sportsbooks.