The casino gambling industry in Arkansas was shaped somewhere between the late 19th and the beginning of the 20th century when horse racing was introduced to the state. After the initial success, the sport was outlawed mostly thanks to the campaign of the Citizen Improvement Union, which was backed by William McGuigan, owner of Essex Park and a member of the state’s legislature at the time. Rumor has it that there was an ulterior motive to McGuigan’s support of the Union – Oaklawn Jockey Club that opened shortly after Essex Park became dangerously profitable and McGuigan allegedly joined the Union’s effort to shut down horse racing in order to sabotage Oaklawn.
In 1934, when the consequences of the Great Depression could no longer be ignored and the states were undergoing a bitter financial struggle trying to stay above the water, Arkansas casino gambling was regarded as a salvation and the government of Arkansas had no alternative but to legalize horse races in Hot Spring once again. One year later, pari-mutuel betting was allowed as well, and the state started its economic recovery, charging a fee for every day of the race.
The 50s brought legalization of greyhound racing and, up until the new millennia, there was somewhat of a standstill on the Arkansas gambling scene. In 2005, a new tide of change came when people of Arkansas were asked to vote for or against the introduction of electronic gambling devices inside the facilities that provide pari-mutuel betting services. The year 2006 was when the talk of lottery started and by 2009, it was officially approved. Fantasy sports entered the stage in 2017 and the path was being paved for the new era of USA gambling – the legalization of sports betting – which is currently a matter of great controversy across the entire country. After establishing the lottery, Arkansas is facing another difficult decision and whether or not this means that the state is once again on the brink of radically changing its gambling scene remains to be seen…
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Land-based Casinos in Arkansas
There are only two casinos in Arkansas (or racinos), one located in West Memphis and the other one in Hot Springs. Tribal casinos are non-existent in this state.
Southland Park Gaming and Racing
Out of the two, Southland Park Gaming is the larger venue, covering 40,000 sq ft and providing 1,500 slot machines. Apart from horse and greyhound racing, the facility includes IGT and Bally produced gaming and poker machines, electronic craps, and electronic roulette. There is also a separate poker room with electronic tables where visitors can play Texas Hold’em, and Omaha poker variants (limit and no-limit).
Oaklawn Park Racing and Gaming
Oaklawn Park Racing and Gaming racino in Hot Springs is somewhat smaller – this facility has 1,150 gaming machines and covers 35,000 sq ft. Table games are of course not included in the offer, but if one needs a break from live horse racing, the facility does provide horse racing machines as well as slots, video poker, and electronic blackjack. The minimum bet is $0.01 – same as in Southland – but, unlike Southland, Oaklawn does not operate 24/7. Instead, the casino is opened till 3 am Sunday to Thursday and till 6 am Fridays and Saturdays.
Gambling is not the only means of entertainment and Oaklawn is famous for their extensive promotional programs that include concerts, tournaments, trivia nights, karaoke night etc.
Legal Aspects of Gambling in Arkansas
Looking at the state’s history, it can easily be concluded that Arkansas tends to be a bit conservative when gambling is concerned, although examples of leniency can be found. For example, you will notice that live dealer tables are completely excluded from the offer, but the government does allow casino games in the electronic version.
The restriction does not only cover specialized gaming venues – home poker games are prohibited as well, but judging by the fine the state charges, this limitation is merely formal and you will definitely not be considered a felon if caught playing poker with your friends.
With the Supreme Court opening the gates for sports betting legalization, Arkansas is now facing the difficult decision of clearing all sports betting or officially labeling the activity as illegal. For decades now, pari-mutuel was the only legally accepted form of sports betting and the time has finally come to either expand the market or proceed with the status quo. There is more to it than simply making a decision; in Arkansas, the legalization would also imply changing the state’s Constitution, which, of course, would have to be approved by the citizens. Alternatively, legislatures would need to repeal the current law or introduce a new one. Many feel that for these actions to take place, a larger scheme would need to be designed, with sports betting being only one piece of the puzzle.
Others feel that the difficulty of this legal endeavor will be equivalent to the revenue potential – if there’s profit to be made, legislatures are likely to promote and push any new law that would bring the state closer to legalizing sports betting and increasing the annual revenue. The money, of course, is always an important factor and in this case, it is estimated that some states are losing billions in illegally wagered money. While the government is weighing pros and cons, the black market is flourishing and this is not the only profit competitor – the states surrounding Arkansas could also benefit from the current status of sports betting within The Natural State.
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Those who oppose sports betting argue that the legalization of this form of gambling may bring a lot of damage to the financial stability of an average individual and promote an unhealthy lifestyle. While this may be true, the fact remains that people who are set on placing sports bets will find a way of doing so without getting the state authorities involved. Be as it may, the state final decision will be affected by the neighboring countries, pressuring the people and the government of Arkansans into following the same path.
Since Mississippi has already embraced sports betting, the fear of money leaving the state is more real than ever and many believe that this is a clear case of history repeating itself – the pattern is the same as with the lottery. Vigorously opposed at first, it was legalized the moment it was realized that banning it meant losing money.
Things are quite different with online gambling and since there are no laws which would prohibit these actions, Arkansans can gamble on internet gaming sites – if they manage to find a platform that accepts USA players, which is easier said than done in some cases.
Available Casino Games – Online and Racinos
Looking at the Oaklawn and Southland casinos and comparing their offer, we can see that it’s quite similar; both of the venues provide racing, gaming machines, poker and electronic table games. Live dealers are not present at the Rasinos’ blackjack, roulette, poker and craps tables, but you can find an authentic electronic dealer blackjack variant in Oaklawn casino.
Generally speaking, online casinos are neither legal nor illegal – the status of online gambling is undefined, which pretty much means that people are on their own when it comes to interpreting or predicting what the legal consequences of online gambling would be. Poker is allowed on electronic tables only, and the same goes for blackjack, roulette, and craps. The lottery is also allowed and the ticket proceeds are used for scholarships. Bingo and raffles are legal, covered by the Charitable Gambling legislation.
Arkansas Casino and Sports Betting FAQs
Are there legal forms of casino games in Arkansas?
Arkansas does allow card and table games inside the casino, however, they have to be in electronic forms. Poker, blackjack, and craps are available but you will never find a real, live dealer sitting at the table.
What is the legal age requirement for gambling in the state of Arkansas?
The state of Arkansas requires their residents to be at least 21 before they can get inside a casino and take active participation in gambling. Should you like to buy lottery tickets, you must be 18.
What are the odds of Arkansas legalizing sports betting?
For the time being, pari-mutuel is the only sports betting alternative that the state offers. What happened in Mississippi can change the face of Arkansas gambling completely, possibly pressuring the state authorities to change their position on sports betting and make it legal. The outcome will probably depend on the fate of sports betting in other states near Arkansas, but so far, there are no clear indications of what we can expect in the future.
What is the penalty for a person or persons caught in an illegal act of gambling?
If you get caught illegally betting on a card game, you will have to pay a fine of $10 to $25. This is a display of extreme tolerance that the state has for this type of gambling – in some other parts of USA, illegal card gambling can even be considered a felony and the person responsible will either face prison time or pay thousands of dollars in fines.
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