Arkansas sports betting could soon become a reality after state voters approved a constitutional amendment Tuesday to legalize it.
More than 54 percent of Arkansas voters cast ballots favoring the measure.
Issue 4 in Arkansas explicitly included sports betting as a legal form of gambling. The measure also approved casino-style gambling at four locations in the state. That would happen via authorization of licenses by the state.
Approved locations include two existing racetracks and two proposed casinos in the vicinity of Little Rock. The current dog-racing tracks with gambling are Southland (near Memphis, Tenn.) and Oaklawn (outside Little Rock) The proposed facilities would be located in Jefferson and Pope counties.
Casinos put millions behind legalization effort
Three casino-aligned groups poured nearly $9 million into the push to legalize Arkansas sports betting and expanded gaming:
- Quapaw Tribe: $3.7 million
- Cherokee Nation: $2.3 million
- Delaware North: $3 million
Buffalo-based Delaware North owns Southland. The tribes both express interest in applying for the newly created gaming licenses. Their money largely went toward advertising in favor of the ballot measure.
The path to Arkansas sports betting now
Arkansas sports betting will not begin for at least a few months. In fact, there is no guarantee all four approved facilities ultimately will offer it at all.
The ballot measure requires state regulators to begin accepting applications to operate sports betting by June 2019.
Arkansas casino revenue will be taxed at 13 percent on the first $150 million and 20 percent thereafter. The measure will lower the current tax rate of 18 percent. State estimates project a resulting loss of $36 million in state revenue and a gain of $16 million by other government entities in FY 2020 and 2021.
The Arkansas Racing Commission is designated by the measure to establish a licensing fee not to exceed $250,000. Sportsbook operators would not pay additional licensing fees.
Governor, key voters opposed
Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson gave a statement to the Democrat Gazette following the measure’s passage:
“I did not support this initiative, and I continue to have great concern over the immediate and negative impact on the state’s budget. But the people have spoken and I respect their will. Time will tell as to what this means for our state, and it remains to be seen as to whether the communities affected will consent to the gambling initiative.”
Hutchinson will not step in, it seems, but the Pope County casino could face obstacles. Residents in that county passed a local ordinance requiring they be allowed to vote on any proposed casino. That question received the support of more than two-thirds of voters.