Sports Betting

National Brands Look to Legalize Mobile Sports Betting in Arkansas

Three companies offering mobile sports betting are seeking a rule change to let them operate in Arkansas. Mobile sports betting is not permitted in Arkansas now.

Bettors watch several screens at a casino sportsbook. Sports bets in Arkansas only are legal inside a casino at a sportsbook. Mobile sports betting companies want to open the state up to online sports wagering. (Image: PlayTenn)

Bill Vickery, of the Little Rock lobbying firm Capitol Advisors Group, wrote to the Arkansas Racing Commission on Feb. 23 regarding a rule change on mobile sports betting. Vickery represents FanDuel, DraftKings, and MGM Resorts, according to his email.

In the email, Vickery asked that a proposed amendment to the state’s gaming rules be addressed at an Arkansas Racing Commission meeting. The amendment would allow private companies to offer online sports betting. The commission regulates gaming in Arkansas.

John C. “Smokey” Campbell, the commission’s director, replied that licensed casinos are the only entities allowed to offer sports wagering. All three offer sports betting at sportsbooks inside the casino.

The licensed casinos in Arkansas are Southland in West Memphis, Oaklawn in Hot Springs, and Saracen in Pine Bluff. A fourth casino has been licensed to operate in Russellville but is tied up in a legal dispute.

In his Feb. 25 response, Campbell noted that Vickery’s clients were the first ones to propose a rule change on mobile sports betting in Arkansas.

“The Arkansas Racing Commission staff is willing to discuss these issues with you to ensure that both parties fully understand the legal issues presented by your request,” Campbell wrote.

Sportsbooks Take in Millions

Under current rules, Arkansas casinos could develop their own mobile sports betting apps. However, bettors would have to be on casino property to place a mobile sports bet, according to state officials.

Mobile sports betting off of a casino property would require a rule change. The casinos have not sought this change. If the rule is changed, the private sports betting companies could form an arrangement with the casinos to provide these services.

With a full slate of sporting events now occurring, sportsbooks at Arkansas casinos are seeing an increase in the monthly handle. The “handle” refers to the amount of money wagered on sports. For the past two months, each sportsbook has had a handle of more than $1 million.

The largest handle in recent months has been in West Memphis at Southland, a casino and dog track across the Mississippi River from the larger Memphis, Tenn., metropolitan area.

Southland’s biggest sports betting handle since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic has been in October. During that month, the sportsbook took in more than $4 million in wagers. 

One month later, in November, mobile sports betting became legal in Tennessee. After that, the handle at Southland has not climbed back over $4 million. 

This led to speculation that some bettors who would have crossed the Mississippi River to place sports bets at Southland were staying in Tennessee and betting on their smartphones.

States Eye Mobile Sports Betting

Lawmakers in other Southern states, including Georgia, are considering bills that would allow mobile sports betting. A mobile sports betting bill cleared the Georgia Senate on Friday and heads to the House.  

In Louisiana, voters in November approved sports betting in 55 of 64 parishes. However, the ballot question did not specify whether mobile sports betting would be allowed. 

When legislators meet at the Capitol in Baton Rouge in April, they will have to decide whether to permit mobile sports betting or restrict it to in-person wagering at casino sportsbooks. Louisiana has 13 riverboat casinos, one land-based hotel-casino in New Orleans, and four racinos. 

The two-month legislative session in Louisiana runs from April 12 to June 10.

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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