Arkansas Approves Mobile Sports Betting Ahead Of March Madness

Arkansas mobile sports betting received final state legislative approval Tuesday in Little Rock, with at least one sportsbook app expected to launch in time for March Madness. 

Arkansans, though, should not expect to bet through any nationally-branded sports apps in the state before the men’s NCAA Tournament tips off March 15.  

It could be a while – a long while, if at all, in fact – before big-name players like DraftKings, FanDuel, or Caesars agree to partner with Arkansas’s three casinos under final regulations that limit third-party sportsbooks to no more than 50 percent of net receipts from statewide online sports betting.

Casino-Branded Mobile Sportsbooks Have The Advantage 

Not that the casinos want a sports betting partner. They already control the state’s retail sports betting market and are prepared to enter the mobile market solo, Arkansas Racing Commission (ARC) spokesperson Scott Hardin told Gaming Today in an email Monday.

The casinos are Saracen Casino Resort in Pine Bluff, Southland Casino Racing in West Memphis, and Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort in Hot Springs. All three were authorized under a 2018 constitutional amendment giving them exclusive rights to operate sports betting. 

Hardin said the ARC anticipates at least one casino will launch its own nane-branded sportsbook no later than March 13. Although he did not mention the casino by name, Saracen Casino Resort in Pine Bluff is a likely candidate. The casino is actively promoting its proprietary BetSaracen app on its website.

It has also been a vocal supporter of giving Arkansas’ casinos at least 50 percent of the mobile sports betting revenue under Arkansas’ new mobile rules, citing casino control over sports betting under the constitution. 

“The people outlined a competitive marketplace of no more than four vendors and I think they did a good job in doing that,” Saracen official Carlton Saffa said during legislative subcommittee hearings on the mobile sports betting rules in late February.  

Will Arkansas’ Online Sports Betting Revenue Rule Limit Growth? 

Opponents of the revenue-sharing rule (sometimes called the “51 percent rule”) contend it will limit growth of the Arkansas’ sports betting market. National sportsbooks oppose the rule because it would restrict their earning potential. 

“We just feel like the 50 percent revenue cap requirement keeps us from negotiating in a traditional way that the sports betting companies engage in other states in what is a win-win,” former Arkansas lawmaker John Burris told the ARC when that agency took up the rules late last year. 

Burris now represents several national sportsbooks vying for a spot in the Arkansas market. He says revenue-sharing should be negotiated by contract, not mandated by regulation. 

Another rule that received final legislative approval Tuesday allows up to two mobile sportsbook apps per casino.

That could give national books an in, if they want it. 

But it is uncertain if national brands would be interested given the 51 percent rule. 

Could Arkansas Mobile Sports Betting Launch Sooner Than March 13? 

Arkansas’ casino-branded apps could make it online sooner than March 13, but only if a few procedural rules are met. 

The approval of the mobile sports betting rules by the Arkansas State Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee is one hurdle. The next is filing of the rules with the Secretary of State. Once the rules are filed, they are on hold for 10 days. When the 10 days are up, the rules take effect.

That means casinos could launch their mobile apps as soon as March 3 or 4 — if the rules are filed with the Secretary of State by Wednesday, Feb. 23.

But March 13 appears to be the target date for now.

About the Author
Rebecca Hanchett

Rebecca Hanchett

Legislative Writer
Based in Kentucky's Bluegrass region, Rebecca Hanchett is a political writer who covers legislative developments at Gaming Today. She worked as a public affairs specialist for 23 years at the Kentucky State Capitol. A University of Kentucky grad, Hanchett has been known to watch UK. basketball from time to time.

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