Gaming expansion

Arkansas mobile sports betting secures final approval; launch expected before March Madness

Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort, one of the states three casinos.
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Mobile sports betting is coming to Arkansas. A proposed rule by the Racing Commission seeking to allow casinos in the Natural State to start accepting online bets earned approval from the legislature’s Joint Budget Committee on Tuesday.

The proposal would become effective March 4, according to state Department of Finance and Administration spokesman Scott Hardin. "Casinos with sports betting apps ready may launch at that time," he said in a written statement, retrieved by Arkansas Online.

The department anticipates “at least one of the state’s three casinos” will have an app launched prior to March 13, the first day of March Madness. The NCAA basketball tournament launches with the first four games on March 15-16.

The casino launching prior to March Madness could be Saracen Casino Resort in Pine Bluff. Carlton Saffa, chief market officer, said the casino has been working on its BetSaracen product for a year in order to meet the date.

Saracen Casino Resort in Pine Bluff

Saffa claims that following the “exciting” committee vote the venue would be going live with its sports wagering offering -a “first-class, Arkansas born and bred mobile wagering app”- before March Madness, although an exact date for launch is dependent on payment processors and App Store compliance.

A controversial point of the rule grants casinos more than half of the mobile sports betting proceeds when partnering with online operators, well above the average 5%-15% share with local casinos in the rest of the country.

Bookmarkers opposing the rule said it conflicted with the federal commerce clause, while casino lawyers claimed the clause doesn’t apply. However, earlier this week, Brian Bowen, chief deputy of the attorney general’s office, said the rule “can be defended” should there be a legal challenge to it, according to Arkansas Times.

While the state Department of Finance and Administration has not yet produced a revenue impact report, spokesman Hardin said “a very conservative estimate” would assume Arkansas doubling the amount currently wagered on retail sports betting, which was $67.7 million in 2021. But the increase could be “of three to four times” that amount.

Officials anticipate $2.7 million in annual taxes and up to $4.8 million annually once multiple apps are up and running. But the gaming expansion also means more revenue to casinos, which have celebrated the rule passage.

"This will allow Southland to build on our significant economic and community investments in West Memphis and the state, including our $250 million expansion opening this year," Southland Casino Racing said in a written statement. The company expects to roll out sports gaming through its Betly app “in the coming weeks.”

"Oaklawn will work diligently to have our mobile platform available to the public within the next quarter or so," said officials for Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort. "We took a more conservative approach and waited for the Racing Commission and the Legislature to give their approval before we started working with our vendor GAN to get our mobile platform ready."

The sports betting expansion is set to allow Arkansas to catch up with regional rivals, reports Tennessee greenlighted mobile sports wagering in 2020, while Louisiana launched on January 28. Meanwhile, neighboring Mississippi allows mobile sports betting on casino property, although a series of bills are attempting to expand the practice statewide. 

States with mobile gaming typically see over 90% of activity done over mobile or online platforms, according to latest data. A mobile-only state like Tennessee generated $2 billion in revenue since market legalization, while Arkansas only posted $69 million in combined casino and sports betting revenue for fiscal year 2020-21.