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Midterm Elections In Deep South Are A Mixed Bag For Gambling

Written By Bart Shirley on November 13, 2018 - Last Updated on March 25, 2021
Several Southern states voted on a variety of gambling initiatives in the November 2018 midterm elections.

November 2018 sent Americans to the polling stations for midterm elections. In several Southern states, a wide variety of gambling initiatives met with varied reactions from the electorate.

Arkansas jumps into gambling with both feet

In a somewhat surprising move, Arkansas will join the ranks of states with sports betting and legal casinos. The Natural State’s voters approved a ballot measure that legalizes wagering on sporting events and the construction and operation of casinos in four of the state’s counties.

The initiative will place casino operations at the Southland Park Gaming and Racing in West Memphis and the Oaklawn Racing and Gaming in Hot Springs. Additionally, the measure calls for casinos to be built in Pope County and Jefferson County, which will place them near the state’s largest city, Little Rock.

The amendment explicitly legalized sports betting in the state as well. However, the most likely locations for sports betting are in these yet-to-be-built casino locations.

There will probably be some lag time before Arkansans begin wagering on sporting events close to home. The law does press the issue a bit, though, because the state must begin accepting applications for sports betting licenses by June 2019.

The initiative passed despite intense pressure both internally and externally against its approval. Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson maintained his disapproval of the measure before and after the vote.

Additionally, the Pope County location may be the slowest to become a reality. Voters in the county passed a referendum that requires in-county casinos to be approved by local voting before construction.

Still, Oct. 8 was a historic day of gambling expansion for the Natural State.

Most of Louisiana will ease into DFS soon

Arkansas’s neighbor to the south, Louisiana, also considered a gambling-related ballot measure. Namely, each parish in the state voted whether to legalize daily fantasy sports (DFS) operation.

Forty-seven of the state’s 64 parishes approved the initiative. DFS will only be available in parishes that voted for the bill.

The measure passed in part due to a joint effort by DFS titans DraftKings and FanDuel. The two companies combined to spend $1 million on an advertising campaign to encourage voter participation.

Observers both inside and outside the state believe that the success of the initiative is a prelude to sports betting in Louisiana. Louisiana Gaming Control Board Chairman Ronnie Jones told Legal Sports Report,

“Virtually every metro area voted in favor. Those parishes represent about 92 percent of the state’s population and I think that number likely bodes well for any sports betting bill.”

Louisiana is already home to 20 casinos. The passage of sports betting might only require consent from the residents of those parishes, rather than the entire state’s electorate.

In two states, the will of the people led to expansions of the state’s gaming profile. Unfortunately, the will of the people can be a fickle thing, especially if initiatives are deceptively worded.

Florida residents likely lost power by gaining control

Voters in Florida also had a gambling amendment placed in front of them on Oct. 8. This measure would remove decision-making authority regarding casino expansion from the state’s legislature and require that voters approve expansions.

On spec, such a measure would seem to be a good thing. After all, more power and freedom in the hands of the people tend to be positive.

However, an investigation of the amendment’s major supporters should have caused concern. Both the Seminole Tribe of Florida and Disney were staunchly in favor of the bill.

The reason for their support (particularly the Seminoles) is that the amendment will have the actual effect of halting the spread of gambling in the state, including the setting up of FL sports gambling. State lawmakers can no longer make any sorts of changes, additions or deletions to the existing gaming provisions.

Getting voters to the booth for a referendum, especially about a fairly noncritical issue like gaming, will be a far more difficult proposition. The net winners of the amendment are the existing casino interests in the state, which have just seen a major threat of competitive pressure relieved.

The aforementioned Seminole tribe is the ruling casino stakeholder in Florida. It now has a virtual monopoly over a market worth hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

One addition that is now in question is sports betting. The ability to simply legalize the practice is no longer available, and there’s no timeframe for when it will come.


It is difficult to ascertain the overall effects of an election one week from its occurrence. However, gambling was clearly at the forefront for many states, particularly in the South.

In two cases, voters decided to push forward with gambling initiatives. As a result, their state’s coffers will likely swell in the coming years.

However, voters must take care to remember the reason for a constitutional republic’s representation is to make the process of lawmaking much more efficient. Quick action is sometimes necessary, particularly in a rapidly developing industry like sports betting.

Unfortunately, Floridians are going to learn this lesson the hard way.

Bart Shirley Avatar
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Bart Shirley

Bart Shirley is the managing editor of evergreen content for PlayUSA. He’s been writing and reporting on the gambling industry since 2013. Prior to working for PlayUSA, Shirley was a feature writer for QuadJacks, a site covering issues in poker. He also writes for BonusCodePoker, a poker satire site that lampoons the lighter side of card games. Shirley is a graduate of the MBA program at Texas Christian University’s Neeley School of Business and has a degree in English from Texas A&M University. He grew up in Houston, TX, and lives in Katy, just west of Houston. Shirley is also a former high school teacher. He is married, has one daughter, and practices Brazilian jiu jitsu in his spare time.

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