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Arkansas Casino Expansion and Online Gaming Debate

Explore the complexities of casino expansion in Arkansas, from regulatory hurdles to local opposition. Learn about the ongoing debate over online gaming and its potential impact on the state's gambling industry.
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Branimir Ivanov | Senior News Contributor

Updated: Apr 26, 2024

Potential Expansion

Arkansas' gaming landscape might be on the verge of a significant expansion as Saracen Casino Resort, one of the state's three land-based casinos, expresses interest in broadening its gaming options. Carlton Saffa, chief market officer at Saracen Casino Resort in Pine Bluff, has officially requested a rule change from the Arkansas Racing Commission (ARC), indicating a potential move towards online gaming.

Arkansas currently hosts two other land-based casinos:

  1. Southland Casino Hotel in West Memphis
  2. Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort in Hot Springs

Arkansas currently hosts two other land-based casinos: Southland Casino Hotel in West Memphis and Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort in Hot Springs. However, online casino gambling is not yet legal in the state.

Saracen Casino's request to the ARC revolves around amending Rule 5 to include additional authorized games. While Rule 5 already authorizes online poker, no casinos currently offer this option. Saffa emphasized the importance of adding more games to provide players with legitimate alternatives to offshore casinos operating without adherence to regulatory standards.

In his letter to the ARC Chairman, Saffa stated, “Most importantly, amending Rule 5 [to add additional games] would provide a legitimate alternative to those already imposing their products onto Arkansas consumers, without regard for your standards of operation and without regard to your rules regarding minors placing bets.”

Saffa highlighted several benefits of legalizing online gaming in Arkansas. Notably, it could combat illegal offshore casinos and generate substantial revenue for the state. According to Saffa's estimates, legalizing online casinos could add over $20 million to state coffers, including $12 million in additional state gaming tax revenue, $3.7 million in purse support to the Oaklawn Jockey Club, and $5.6 million for Pine Bluff and Jefferson County.

Moreover, legalizing online gaming could aid in identifying individuals with gambling problems and would not negatively impact brick-and-mortar casinos' operations.

Despite Saracen Casino's push for online gaming, the ARC has made it clear that it is not currently considering expanding gaming beyond the current rules. While Arkansas casinos can offer online sports betting, games like slots, blackjack, and craps must be confined to physical facilities.

Scott Hardin from the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration explained the intricate process involved in changing gaming rules within the state. Any proposed rule changes must undergo a thorough review process, starting with a legislative committee. This committee evaluates the proposed changes, considering factors such as their potential impact on the state's economy and regulatory framework. Additionally, the proposed changes must be coordinated with various state government offices to ensure alignment with existing policies and regulations. This process ensures that any amendments to gaming rules are well-considered and meet the standards set by the state.

Jim Hudson, Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration, reiterated the state's current stance on gaming expansion. He emphasized that Arkansas is not currently considering expanding gaming beyond the current rules. This includes the offering of games online. Hudson's statement underscores the cautious approach taken by state authorities towards any potential changes in gaming regulations.

Arkansas has encountered significant obstacles in its efforts to add a fourth casino, particularly in Pope County. Despite the ARC's approval of proposed rule revisions in March to start accepting new applications for a fourth casino, the process has been mired in local opposition and conflicting interests from multiple operators. The complexities surrounding the selection of a suitable location and the competition among operators have further complicated matters.

While the third casino license was swiftly awarded to Saracen Casino Resort, the Pope County license remains a subject of contention. However, the Commission remains determined to proceed with the application process, pending legislative approval. This process is expected to move forward, with the aim of finalizing the selection of the fourth casino location before the end of the summer.

 

“Casino expansion in Arkansas is a multi-faceted process that involves careful consideration of regulatory, economic, and social factors.”

 

The Future

As the debate over online gaming continues to unfold in Arkansas, the state's gaming landscape stands at a critical juncture. Stakeholders are closely monitoring the decisions made by the ARC and the progress of legislative developments. The outcome of these deliberations could potentially shape the future of gaming in Arkansas, paving the way for significant transformations in the state's gaming industry.

As the debate over online gaming continues in Arkansas, the state's gaming landscape stands on the cusp of potential transformation, with stakeholders closely monitoring the ARC's decisions and legislative developments.

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