Arkansas Mobile Wagering Live With No Major Sportsbooks

Arkansas Mobile Wagering Live With No Major Sportsbooks
© USA Today

Mobile sports betting has been legal in Arkansas since March, with two local casinos operating their own branded mobile apps since then.

In states across the country, national online bookmakers such as FanDuel and DraftKings compete for sports betting customers, but not in Arkansas so far. That seems unlikely to change soon.

Three Casinos Operate In Arkansas   

Carlton Saffa, chief market officer at Saracen Casino Resort, told this week the statewide mobile launch has been “great.”

The casino in Pine Bluff went live with its BetSaracen product in May, a couple of months after Southland Casino Racing in West Memphis made its Betly Arkansas platforms available for computer and cellphone users.

The third Arkansas casino, Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort in Hot Springs, has a mobile app, Oaklawn Anywhere, allowing users to bet on horse races, but has not launched a separate sports wagering app. That launch is expected soon.

No National Mobile Bookmakers

Arkansas casinos are allowed to partner with outside online bookmakers but so far have chosen to operate in-house apps only.

A recent Arkansas Racing Commission rule requires outside bookmakers to share 51% of profits with local casinos when partnering on a sports betting app. These national companies normally share 5%-15% with local casino partners.

John Burris, a former Arkansas legislator representing a coalition of national online bookmakers, previously told the 51% provision would be a deterrent to major bands that otherwise would want to operate in the state.

This week, Burris said he is not aware of any discussions regarding these national bookmakers going live in Arkansas. However, Burris said he has visited with state legislators “who are frustrated by what they’re hearing from constituents about limited choices.”

Burris previously said he expects an effort at the statehouse in Little Rock next year to overturn the 51% provision. This week, Burris said he is unsure what approach lawmakers might take with sports betting in 2023. 

“I’m comfortable letting legislators decide whatever policy approach they think is best,” he said.

Saffa told he has no plans to partner with a national brand.

In May, Saffa indicated on Twitter that local casinos don’t need national mobile bookmakers such as Boston-based DraftKings.

“We were told an Arkansas app wouldn’t work, that we needed a Boston partner. Nope,” Saffa tweeted.

Southland and Oaklawn also have not partnered with an online bookmaker outside their own company and have not indicated they plan to do so.

On his Twitter feed, Saffa has been responsive to questions and suggestions from bettors about the BetSaracen app. 

Saracen’s outreach extends to BetSaracen television ads featuring former University of Arkansas Razorback stars such as Joe Kleine, a retired NBA player and Olympic basketball gold medalist. 

Saffa said Saracen is “not done” with add-ons to the app.

“Since the launch we’ve added PayPal, Venmo and streamlined some of the flow on deposits,” he said. “We’ve made sign-on simpler, and that’s still improving. We still await the all clear from Visa and Mastercard, and when that comes it will allow direct entry of cards in the app, as opposed to in a digital wallet, and most importantly, Apple Pay and Google Pay.

Razorback Baseball Attracts Bets

Saffa said the BetSaracen app has exceeded expectations, especially with the launch occurring in the spring at the end of the season for leagues such as the NHL and NBA.

The NBA betting has attracted the most wagers on the app so far, Saffa said. The league’s best-of-seven championship series is underway this month between the Golden State Warriors and Boston Celtics.

“The NBA has been a handle driver, and we’re thrilled, but not surprised, at the interest in Arkansas athletics,” he said.

This weekend, the Razorback baseball team is competing in a Division I super regional series against No. 10 North Carolina. The best-of-three series opens Saturday at the Tar Heels’ ballpark in Chapel Hill.

The eight super regional winners will compete for the national title at the College World Series next weekend in Omaha, Nebraska. 

Football Season On Horizon

Until football season begins in a few months, Major League Baseball is expected to attract most of the betting interest, Saffa said.

The Razorback football team begins play Sept. 3 at home in Fayetteville against non-conference opponent Cincinnati. Arkansas competes in the Southeastern Conference against nationally prominent rivals such as Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M.

Of the 11 states with university teams competing in the SEC, only four have legal and live sports betting. In addition to Arkansas, these include three of its neighboring states, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee. 

The other three states that border Arkansas do not have legal sport betting. These are Missouri, Oklahoma and the nation’s second-most populous state, Texas.