Timeline to Legal Mobile Sports Betting in Arkansas as Launch Nears

Timeline to Legal Mobile Sports Betting in Arkansas as Launch Nears
By Larry Henry
Fact Checked by Ron Fritz

On Feb. 22, the Arkansas legislative Joint Budget Committee gave the final approval required to legalize mobile Arkansas sports betting statewide.

The Road to Arkansas Mobile Sports Betting

Key dates in the process that allowed Arkansas to allow mobile sports betting beginning this week.

Nov. 9, 2021

The Arkansas’ Racing Commission is expected to vote on a rule change legalizing mobile sports betting, according to a story from Gambling.com. The Racing Commission regulates all gaming in Arkansas. The state’s three casinos allow on-site sports betting at ticket windows and kiosks, but a Racing Commission rule change is required for off-site mobile wagering to begin.

Nov. 16, 2021

Carlton Saffa, chief market officer of Saracen Casino Resort in Pine Bluff, tells Gambling.com that casino patrons ask every day about mobile sports betting.

Nov. 18, 2021

At a Racing Commission meeting, national online bookmakers object to language in the proposed mobile-wagering rule that would give local casinos 51% of profits when partnering with out-of-state bookmakers. National online bookmakers typically share 5-15%.

The commission votes unanimously to post the proposed rule change online for 30 days to receive public comment. Because of the 51% profit-sharing provision, national attention is focused on Arkansas.

Dec. 17, 2021

In a statewide “Act Now!” email, DraftKings asks, “Do you think that Arkansans should get to choose which sports-betting platforms they want to use and NOT the government.” This is an effort to convince the Racing Commission to remove language from the proposed sports-betting rule granting local casinos 51% of profits when partnering with national bookmakers.

Dec. 20, 2021

Several national online bookmakers form a coalition, Bet on Arkansas, to defeat the 51% profit-sharing provision. The coalition includes BallyBet, BetMGM Sportsbook, DraftKings, FanDuel and Fanatics Sportsbook.

“Customers should have access to the most competitive prices, the best promotions and bonuses and the strongest consumer protections, which would be limited by regulation directing 51% of revenue to casino partners,” the coalition’s website states.

Dec 22, 2021

Saracen Casino’s Saffa says he has received calls from casino operators around the country wishing their states had considered the 51% profit-sharing provision. Check out a recent Q&A with Saffa.

National online bookmakers contend profit-sharing percentages should be negotiated between themselves and their casino partners, not mandated by the government.

Arkansas would be the only state with a profit-sharing percentage established by a government rule. Local casinos assert that the majority of profits should remain in-state, where the casinos employ thousands of workers and contribute millions in state and local taxes.

Dec. 23, 2021

The Arkansas Racing Commission is expected to vote Dec. 30 on the proposed rule change to allow off-site mobile sports betting statewide. The 51% profit-sharing provision remains intact.

Dec. 30, 2021

The Racing Commission votes unanimously to approve a rule change to legalize mobile sports betting in Arkansas. The rule is approved with the 51% provision included. The rule must be approved by the Arkansas Legislative Council at its next meeting in January before mobile wagering can begin.

Jan. 4, 2022

In a letter to the Racing Commission, state Sen. Mark Johnson, R-Little Rock, challenges the constitutionality of the mobile-wagering rule, saying that betting would physically take place away from “a facility where casino gaming is conducted,” as required in the state constitution.

The senator also says it is an “absolute joke” that mobile wagering can be restricted to within a specific boundary. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge issues an opinion that the state constitution “is silent” on revenue-sharing arrangements.

Jan. 6, 2022

GeoComply, a Canada-based company providing geolocation location and fraud-security services, demonstrates in real time how electronic geofencing blocks bettors attempting to wager illegally from outside restricted boundaries.

Jan. 21, 2022

The Arkansas Racing Commission schedules an emergency meeting for the following week to consider “a correction” in the mobile-wagering rule’s language, changing net-gaming “revenue” to net-gaming “receipts.” This change gets the sports-betting rule in line with a state constitutional amendment that expanded gambling in Arkansas, the commission attorney says.

Jan. 25, 2022

The mobile sports-betting rule is pulled from the Arkansas Legislative Council’s January agenda to give lawmakers more time than one day to understand the one-word change in the mobile-wagering rule. This delays mobile sports betting until after the Feb. 13 Super Bowl.

Jan. 27, 2022

With mobile sport betting pulled from the Arkansas Legislative Council agenda, the NCAA’s March Madness men’s basketball tournament now is targeted as start date to allow off-site wagering in the state.

Feb. 7, 2022

With the Arkansas Legislative Council not meeting again until late March, the focus shifts to the legislative fiscal session beginning Feb. 14 in Little Rock. National online bookmakers are expected to contend the 51% profit-sharing provision violates the U.S. Constitution's commerce clause, prohibiting interstate trade barriers and discrimination against out-of-state businesses. Saffa says the proposed sports-betting rule doesn’t address geography.

Feb. 15, 2022

The legislative Joint Budget Committee’s Administrative Rule Review Subcommittee schedules a hearing to consider the mobile sports-betting rule. If approved there, it would go before the full committee for the final OK and then to the secretary of state’s office for a 10-day filing period. Under this mandatory process, the elected secretary of state cannot delay the rule.

Feb. 16, 2022

The subcommittee hearing on mobile wagering includes testimony from John Burris, a former Arkansas legislator representing national online bookmakers. Burris says the 51% provision violates the commerce clause prohibiting discrimination against out-of-state businesses.

Saffa testifies that the profit-sharing language in the proposed rule does not restrict any national online bookmaker from operating in Arkansas. After a 1 1/2-hour hearing, the subcommittee goes into recess until the next day without voting.

Feb. 17, 2022

On a voice vote, called a “review,” the subcommittee approves the key sports-betting rule, Rule 20, sending it to the full committee for a final sign-off. Later that morning, the Joint Budget Committee OK’s four other framework rules needed for mobile wagering to begin, forwarding them to the secretary of state for the 10-day mandatory filing period. Rule 20, with the 51% provision, is to be decided the following week.

Feb. 22, 2022

With no testimony, the Joint Budget Committee on a voice vote accepts Rule 20, meaning it has been approved with the 51% profit-sharing provision in place. After the 10-day filing period, mobile sports betting can begin statewide. Saffa says Saracen’s app, BetSaracen, will be ready for bettors to download in time for the NCAA March Madness basketball tournament, and perhaps as early as March 4.

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Contributors

Larry Henry is a gaming news writer for BetArkansas.com. A veteran print and broadcast reporter and editor who has been a political editor at the Las Vegas Sun and managing editor at KFSM-TV, the CBS affiliate in Northwest Arkansas. Larry also has experience with media outlets in other states with gaming, including Tennessee and Louisiana.

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