Sports Betting

Arkansas Sportsbooks Rake in Millions With COVID-19 Lockdown Lifted

Sports betting is on the rise again at Arkansas casinos. Two of the state’s three resorts took in millions in bets in September.

The Oaklawn horse track and casino, seen here, has collected more than $1 million in sports wagering two months in a row. The resort is in Hot Springs, Arkansas. (Image: KTHV-TV)

The sportsbook at Oaklawn horse track and casino collected more than $1.1 million in bets last month, according to the latest figures from the Arkansas Racing Commission. That amount is about $136,000 more than in August. The August total also topped $1 million. That was the first time the $1 million figure has been hit at Oaklawn since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in March.

After the payout to winners, Oaklawn’s net win in September was $206,545.

The Oaklawn racetrack is in Hot Springs, about an hour southwest of Little Rock, the state capital. Casino gambling operated illegally but openly in Hot Springs for decades until authorities shut the resorts down in the 1960s. Casino gambling now is only allowed at the racetrack. The historic track is home to the Arkansas Derby. This annual event is an important prelude to the Triple Crown races.

At Southland Casino, a greyhound track in West Memphis, the sportsbook collected more than $2.3 million in bets during September. That is the largest sports-wagering amount ever at Southland. The sportsbook had a net win last month of more than $138,000.

At the Saracen Casino in Pine Bluff, the sportsbook accepted $487,4876 in bets last month. The casino’s highest all-time total was $597,88 last November.

Saracen’s net win in September was $52,007.

Central Arkansas Casino Grand Opening

The Saracen casino formally opened on Tuesday in Pine Bluff, about 45 minutes south of Little Rock in central Arkansas.

Saracen had been operating in an annex building with 300 slot machines while the full casino was being constructed. The annex at one time had been a truck stop. The new $350-million resort has 2,000 slot machines, 36 table games, a sportsbook, and a poker room.

At a soft opening last week, Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) acknowledged the economic benefits of a casino in Pine Bluff.

Hutchinson had been against the November 2018 ballot question that allowed for casino expansion in the Natural State, the Pine Bluff Commercial noted.

You cannot deny the need for 700 jobs right here in Pine Bluff,” Hutchinson told those touring the property.

Hutchinson ordered casinos to close as COVID-19 rates spiked in March. He allowed the properties to reopen on May 18. The governor has permitted the resorts to operate at 66 percent capacity with safety measures in place.

Sporting Events, Betting Return

As COVID-19 infection rates began to increase last spring, sporting events at all levels were halted.

However, professional baseball, basketball, and ice hockey resumed play in the summer. With football starting back up in August and September, the action in sportsbooks increased.

National Football League games are considered the most widely bet sporting events in the country. Also, in a college football state such as Arkansas, sports-wagering was expected to be active once the games resumed. The flagship university’s Razorbacks compete in the powerhouse Southeastern Conference.

A fourth casino has been licensed for Russellville, northwest of Little Rock, but is not in operation. Its license is being challenged in a legal battle.

Larry Henry

Gaming Regulation, Crime, Politics — Larry Henry is a veteran print and broadcast journalist who spent more than 16 years in Nevada, including serving as legislative reporter for the Reno Gazette-Journal and as political editor at the Las Vegas Sun. He's also written about popular culture for the Mob Museum in Las Vegas. As a broadcast journalist, he worked as managing editor at KFSM-TV, the CBS affiliate in Arkansas, where he now lives and where casino growth is a hot topic. A Marine Corps veteran and LSU graduate, he is also an avid movie fan, especially of classic film noir from the 1940s and ’50s.

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Larry Henry