Arkansas gaming regulations head to Secretary of State

27 February 2019

The Arkansas Racing Commission’s rules for casino gaming and sports betting have been approved by the Joint Budget Committee's Administrative Rule & Regulation Review Subcommittee.

The rules, which were passed to the subcommittee after being approved by the Racing Commission last week, were nodded through yesterday (February 26). They now head to the Secretary of State’s office, and pass into law 10 days after being filed.

The 314-page document sets out a comprehensive set of regulations covering land-based casino gaming and sports betting, with the proposals now headed to lawmakers in the state for further scrutiny.

This follows the publication of the document in late January and an invitation for public comment on the proposed regulations.

It sets out a tax rate of 13% of the first $150m (£112.9m/€131.7m) of net casino gaming revenue, which rises to 20% on any sum above that figure. Gaming taxes must be paid before the twentieth day of each month.

Licences will run for ten years, with a fee of $250,000 to be paid by successful applicants. 

Separate interactive gaming licences will also be made available to casino licence holders. iGaming operations are taxed at the same rate as land-based gaming, and while the regulations do not specifically mention online casino and wagering, they do state that online poker is permitted. Players must be aged 21 and above.

The fact that interactive licences prohibit betting on professional sports teams based in Arkansas and amateur sports does suggest remote wagering will be allowed. Such bets may only be placed in-person, though there is an exemption for the Olympic Games.

A series of proposed sports betting amendments put forward by the the athletic directors of Arkansas’ four state universities appears to have been largely disregarded. The ADs of University of Arkansas, Fayetteville; Arkansas State University; the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, and University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff called for strict integrity controls to be added.

They suggested more in-depth definitions of persons banned from betting on sports, and mandating the involvement of the Racing Commission in integrity-related investigations. Only the excluded persons element appears to have been retained, with licensees ordered to ensures coaches or participants in collegiate events be prevented from betting.

While the sports betting regulations are perhaps the most eagerly anticipated, the core thrust of the regulations is to set out a framework for the launch of land-based casino gaming in the state. Arkansas voters approved a measure to permit four venues to open in the state at last November’s midterm elections. These licences will be awarded to applicants in Jefferson and Pope Counties, as well as to companies looking to establish casinos at Southland Racing Corp. in West Memphis and Oaklawn Jockey Club in Hot Springs. No individual corporation may hold more than one casino licence in the state.

Licensed venues will be permitted to offer bingo, keno, table games, card games and slot machines, as well as sports betting products such as race books, sports pools and single-event wagering.

The proposal to establish a Pope County venue has proved particularly controversial, with Arkansas media reporting that the majority of public comments on the proposed regulations were to state opposition to the establishment of the casino. The mayor of Russellville, Pope County’s largest town, has already pledged to fight any plans to construct such a facility. The regulations were tweaked as a result, to state that the venues in Pope and Jefferson Counties require letters of support from the local population before they can be approved.