The dawn of mobile Arkansas sports betting presents unique opportunities for the operators who enter the market.
Thanks to the University of Arkansas’ near monopoly of sports attention in the state, the three casinos have outsized potential to grab customers when mobile wagering launches in time for March Madness.
The three casinos — Southland Casino in West Memphis, Oaklawn Racing Casino in Hot Springs, and Saracen Casino in Pine Bluff — received two mobile sports betting skins apiece, meaning they can partner with an outside party while still launching their own, proprietary application.
But the market will be a tough one for national operators after the Arkansas Racing Commission approved a rule that mandates any national operators must give local casinos 51% of profits when partnering on a mobile application.
The rules were approved by the Arkansas legislature’s Joint Budget Administrative Rule Review Subcommittee and cleared the full committee in mid February, clearing the way for full mobile sports betting (see a timeline of the Arkansas legislative process to get online sports wagering launched).
“The commerce clause argument brought by the national vendors was always a Hail Mary pass. I was glad to see that members of the subcommittee rightly recognized this rule makes sense and that the constitutionally authorized should maintain a majority position in bets booked under their license,” Carlton Saffa, chief market officer at Saracen Casino Resort, said in an email to BetArkansas.com.
Saffa said Saracen’s sports betting mobile application will be ready in time for Arkansas’ launch date.
Arkansas a College Sports Hotbed
Saffa told BetArkansas.com the state’s sports betting market is unique from its neighbors in how college sports focused it is.
“The Hogs are our pro team,” Saffa said. “You’re talking about a state that is basically the size of Mississippi or Alabama, or Oklahoma, even. But Oklahoma has Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Mississippi has Ole Miss and Mississippi State. Alabama has the Crimson Tide and Auburn. Arkansas has Arkansas. So, it’s essentially everyone’s team here.”
Saffa said Saracen Casino has seen a direct correlation in retail betting between when the Razorbacks are thriving and when they’re diving, speaking to the power the state’s SEC institution has on its populace. There are three other universities in the state that compete in Division I athletics (Arkansas Pine Bluff, Arkansas Little Rock and Arkansas State) but only the Razorbacks compete in a Power 5 conference.
As far as professional sports teams are concerned, Saffa said the state’s sports betting market is segmented, with loyalties to the St. Louis Cardinals and Kansas City Royals of the MLB, combined with the Dallas Cowboys and Kansas City Chiefs in the NFL.
The one thing that unites Arkansas residents, sports betting wise, is their collective belief in the power of the Hogs, which should bode well for the state’s market — as Arkansas currently sits within the projected 68-team NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.
Saffa is excited to see where the property’s sports betting application takes them later this month, when the Razorbacks make their way into the Big Dance for a second consecutive season.
“We’re excited to see what sports betting in Arkansas will look like with March Madness and the Hogs,” Saffa said. “The same could be said of Razorbacks baseball. We have a phenomenal baseball team, and we expect heavy interest in college baseball at Saracen.”
How Arkansas’ Sports Betting Market Stands Out
Another element of Arkansas’ mobile sports betting market that Saffa says is unique is the fact there are only a handful of skins available, unlike the larger and more complex markets found in neighboring Tennessee and Louisiana.
That exclusivity allows the state’s residents to build more faith in the marketplace, given their established relationship with casinos that are rooted in Arkansas, rather than a national sportsbook company that has little connection to the area, Saffa added.
“You're not going to see an environment in Arkansas where there's, let’s say, 20 skins; it's very different from Tennessee because Arkansas started with (retail sports betting) and then to mobile,” Saffa said. “Tennessee, on the other hand, doesn't have casinos. So, they went wide with sports betting through the lottery and offered the opportunity to get in the game to all sorts of operators. So, Arkansas’ model will be very casino driven because we're in the driver's seat.”
Above all, Saffa knows how much pride state residents take in the success of the Razorbacks.
He expects residents to show up en masse to bet later this month, giving the fledgling Arkansas mobile sports betting marketplace a sprinting start.
“In Arkansas, if the Hogs win people seem to stand a little taller, and smile a little more, and with an opportunity for the Hogs to win, and folks to have $20 on the game, I think it's going to be nuts,” Saffa said. “I think it's going to be exciting. We are hopeful that we'll be first to market. We're not dependent upon being first to market to be successful. But we spent the better part of the last year or so preparing our app to be ready.”