Gov. Asa Hutchinson approved a 2017 bill that legalized daily fantasy games in the state. Leading DFS sites like FanDuel and DraftKings operate in Arkansas.
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Among other things, Arkansas is now known for its traditional pork barbecue as well as its association with former president Bill Clinton, singer Johnny Cash, and Walmart founder Sam Walton. It has not (at least in recent years) been known for gambling. That began to change in 2018.
Voters approved a sweeping ballot measure that expanded gambling at two racing facilities and allowed two more cities to apply for casinos licenses. The measure also allowed each facility to take bets on single-game sporting events.
Arkansas could have operational casino games and sports bets as soon as 2019. Regulations were introduced not long after voters approved the amendment, and betting could begin as soon as the summer of 2019.
The vote is a groundbreaking change for the state, but more modern gamblers might well be unaware that back in the day, the state rivaled Las Vegas in terms of gambling and casinos. Its mob-handled casinos were infamous. Unfortunately for gamblers, Arkansas later adopted a more regressive attitude to gambling, from which it is only starting to emerge.
For roughly a 20-year period starting in the late 1920s, Arkansas had a thriving casino and gambling scene that was the southern answer to Las Vegas. Jump forward to 2018, and those days are long gone; ever since the start of World War II, the gambling industry has dwindled down statewide. Gamblers in Arkansas can visit two racetrack casinos ("racinos") for greyhound and horse racing as well as some machine gaming, but these can't rival the mega-casinos in states such as Nevada and New Jersey. Charity gambling games like bingo are also allowed, along with the state lotto, but that's about it.
Many states have made progress in recent decades regarding gambling freedom and the building of ultra-modern casino resorts. Arkansas has a less glamorous gambling history since its heydays at the early part of the 20th century. Prior to the more recent ballot measure that edged the state back toward some form of betting freedom, the state was far behind the curve. There's a huge amount of work to be done if the state is ever going to regain its status as a gambling hot spot, but some moves are turning it back toward its roots.
Once upon a time, in Hot Springs, Arkansas, there was a casino resort that could today look like something from Las Vegas. Unfortunately, authorities opted to clamp down on gambling rather than invest in it. That means that in 2018, Arkansas has only two racinos—at Oaklawn and Southland Park racetracks. They offer some games similar to blackjack and video poker, plus some more legitimate poker tables. But anyone in Arkansas who wants to experience the real deal needs to take a trip to Mississippi for some authentic casino table games and slot machines.
Players will be out of luck pretty much anywhere in Arkansas or anywhere else in the south when it comes to online gaming. There are no legal sites and little push in the Natural State to change the laws.
There aren't many options for poker players online or in person. One is to head off to Southland Park and try getting a spot on one of the venue's six poker tables, which host tournaments and allow real-money games. Besides that, no online poker games are permitted.
Sports bettors in Arkansas are given some license to gamble, thanks to legal wagering at Oaklawn Racing and Southland Park, featuring horses and greyhounds, respectively. The racino venues also feature legal gambling machines with skills-based elements.
The state has yet to take its first legal sports bet on sports like football and basketball, either online or via land-based sportsbooks, but it will do so shortly. The ballot measure allows Oaklawn and Southland, as well as the new planned casinos, to offer sports bets. Arkansas Razorback fans may be able to take a bet in time for the 2019 football season.
It does remain to be seen if these facilities will partner with third-party online opperators and allow mobile betting outside their walls, or if wagering will be restricted to in-person bets.