March Madness Now Targeted as Arkansas Mobile Start Date

March Madness Now Targeted as Arkansas Mobile Start Date
© USA Today

The target date for mobile sports betting in Arkansas has shifted from the Feb. 13 Super Bowl to the NCAA March Madness basketball tournament.

Carlton Saffa, chief market officer at Saracen Casino Resort in Pine Bluff, told Gambling.com the goal had been to have mobile sports betting operational in time for the NFL Super Bowl, “but we now look optimistically to a March start.”

The Super Bowl and NCAA basketball tournament traditionally are heavily wagered sporting events.

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Super Bowl Mobile Launch Date Scuttled

Earlier this week, all signs pointed to mobile wagering being operational in Arkansas sometime in February.

On Tuesday, the Arkansas Racing Commission unanimously voted in an emergency meeting to change one word in its proposed mobile sports betting rule , making a technical correction. The commission regulates all gaming in Arkansas.

After the change in wording, sign-off from legislators this week would have cleared the way for mobile betting to begin, possibly in time for the Super Bowl.

The first step in that sign-off was to occur on Wednesday at a legislative subcommittee hearing. If the mobile wagering rule had been approved there, it would have gone to the full Arkansas Legislative Council for a final vote on Friday.

However, some lawmakers requested more time than one day to process the new wording before voting on it. The item was pulled from the Wednesday and Friday agendas, apparently ending any hope for Super Bowl mobile wagering in the state.

Vote on Mobile Wagering Could Come Next Month

With Wednesday’s delay, the next opportunity for a vote could come during the legislative fiscal session that begins in February in Little Rock. The mobile wagering rule could go before a joint budget subcommittee for consideration.

If a vote doesn’t occur there, mobile sports betting might not be addressed until the Arkansas Legislative Council’s next meeting in late March. That means mobile wagering probably would not begin at least until sometime in April.

The NCAA Men’s Final Four, the college basketball betting marquee event, is scheduled to be played April 2-4 at the Caesars Superdome in New Orleans.

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51% Profit-Sharing Issue Could Come Up

One issue that could arise during the next few weeks is a provision in the mobile sports betting rule that grants local casinos 51% of profits when partnering with national online bookmakers, such as FanDuel and DraftKings. Online bookmakers typically share 5-15%.

John Burris, a former Arkansas legislator representing national online bookmakers, said his group would spend time during the coming weeks discussing the 51% provision with lawmakers.

Asked if legislators can be persuaded to remove the 51% provision, he told Gambling.com, “It's always possible.”

National online bookmakers contend profit-sharing percentages are decided in every other state during negotiations between themselves and their casino partners, not by a government rule.

Arkansas casinos have said most of the profits should remain in-state, where thousands of casino workers are employed and where the resorts contribute millions of dollars in local and state tax revenue.

In addition to Saracen, Arkansas’s casinos are Oaklawn Casino Resort in Hot Springs and Southland Casino Racing in West Memphis. A fourth hotel-casino has been approved in Pope County but has not been built.

Casinos Look to March to Launch Mobile Sports Betting

Saffa said mobile wagering “is something Arkansans ask us for daily and is an issue with broad support.”

The casino executive said Saracen representatives were scheduled to appear at the legislative hearing in Little Rock on Wednesday to support the state rule allowing mobile sports betting.

“Now we look forward to voicing support for mobile wagering next month,” he told Gambling.com.

Governor Supports Mobile Sports Betting

Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, has said he supports mobile sports betting partly because it would keep Arkansas competitive with neighboring states, such as Tennessee and Louisiana, where it is legal.

Tennessee’s mobile sports betting program began in November 2020.

In Louisiana, mobile wagering is set to begin Friday.

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