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Arkansas casino taking unique approach to get online gambling legalised

| By Jill R. Dorson | Reading Time: 3 minutes
While online gambling is proving to be one of 2024's biggest obstacles, Arkansas is trying a wholly different tactic.
arkansas saracen online gambling

Six years ago voters legalised an expansion of gaming in the state of Arkansas. This included up to four brick-and-mortar casinos, in-person and online wagering and online poker. The law does not explicitly prohibit Arkansans from online gambling. It also does not explicitly allow it.

The law itself governs “casino gaming,” defined as “dealing, operating, carrying on, conducting, maintaining, or exposing for play any game played with cards, dice, equipment”. It can also include “any mechanical, electromechanical, or electronic device or machine for money, property, checks, credit, or any representative value”. Casino gaming shall also be defined to include “accepting wagers on sporting events”.

When regulators interpreted this law, they included statewide online sports betting and online poker. No operators are currently offering digital poker. Saracen Casino’s Carlton Saffa, the chief marketing officer, last month wrote to the Arkansas Racing Commission asking for a rule change. This was reported by initially by Gambling.com.

“A solution exists by amending ARC Rule 5, which already authorises online poker, to include other types of table games and slots,” Saffa told Gambling.com. “Doing so would provide significant tax revenue to government. And, just as important, ensure that operators be held accountable by the government.”

The racing commission’s Rule 1 defines casino gaming the same way the law does. The regulations do not address Arkansas online casino. Instead, they refer to “interactive gaming” and explicitly define online poker as legal. Rule 5.060 also says that an operator cannot offer a new interactive gaming system. This is unless it has been approved by the commission.

But Rule 5.140 – “Acceptance of Wagers” – says that operators cannot accept wagers on “any game other than poker and its derivatives as approved by the Commission and published on the Commission’s website”.

A key difference between online poker and other online casino games is that poker is peer-to-peer, and casino games like blackjack or roulette are played against the house. In every US jurisdiction, the two are defined and regulated separately.

Latest idea is a workaround

Saffa’s idea is a workaround that would bypass legislative action, another constitutional amendment, or gubernatorial approval. Governor Kay Ivey supported the last expansion of gambling, but earlier this year said she “won’t sign just any bill”.

Should the racing commission grant Saffa his request, Arkansas online gambling would be regulated and could likely go live sooner than later. But it could be stopped by a lawsuit or legislative action. Saffa told Gambling.com that he hopes his request will be on the 6 May Arkansas Racing Commission meeting agenda. That agenda is not yet available.

In Minnesota, lawmakers have been struggling to legalise sports betting for several years. This year, the racing commission voted to allow historic horse racing machines at local racetracks. So far, one state legislator has called the action “illegal” and has filed a bill banning the machines; the tracks have sued the state’s tribes and one tribe has sued the racing commission. All of which illustrates that even if Arkansas’ racing commission does “legalise” it may not stick.

Seven states offer online casino

So far, neither of the other two racetracks – Oaklawn or Southland – have participated in the conversation. iGB calls to Saracen Casino and the Arkansas Racing Commission on Tuesday (23 April) were not returned.

Across the US, seven states – Connecticut, Delaware, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and West Virginia – have legal online casino. Rhode Island is the the latest to launch. Online casino has been legal in the state for several years, but only went live in March.

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