The Arkansas Gaming Commission (ARC) on Thursday will consider a proposed rule change that would allow mobile sports betting through the state’s licensed casinos.
Scott Hardin, a spokesman with the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration, told VIXIO GamblingCompliance the commission will not vote on the regulatory amendment but will initiate the rule change process to allow for mobile sports betting tethered to a state-licensed casino.
As of now, wagers on sports may only be placed in person at a casino.
Hardin said a draft rule would be posted online for 30 days to allow for public comments. It also has to go through a public review process, he added.
The joint legislative Rules Committee of the state legislature would then approve the revised rule and then it would have to be signed by Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson. Hutchinson has stated that he supports mobile wagering to allow Arkansas to compete with nearby states such as Louisiana and Tennessee.
“The vote to approve would follow that process,” Hardin said. “Without any delays, we anticipate the rule change would be finalized and effective at the end of January 2022.”
Although Arkansas initially limited sports betting to retail sportsbooks, the proposed amendment comes as the landscape for sports wagering quickly changes in the south.
Earlier this year, Louisiana legalized both retail and mobile wagering. So far, four casinos have opened retail sportsbooks, with nine other state-licensed casinos and racinos having applied for a license, according to the Louisiana Gaming Control Board (LGCB).
Earlier this month, Ronnie Johns, chairman of the LGCB, told the Baton Rouge Advocate that mobile wagering is still a couple of months away as vendors are still being investigated and their technology is being tested.
Tennessee does not have commercial casinos but legalized mobile sports betting in November 2020, while Mississippi lawmakers are expected to consider mobile wagering in the legislative session that starts in January.
Cherokee Nation Pope County Casino Licensed
As it stands, there are three casinos in Arkansas but a fourth could soon be developed after another action taken by the ARC on Friday.
After several lawsuits and strong political opposition, the ARC voted Friday to issue a casino license to Cherokee Nation Business (CNB), voiding an earlier license to a competitor that the state's Supreme Court ruled did not meet the state’s qualifications.
“The fact of the matter is we have one qualified applicant,” acting commission chairman Mark Lamberth said prior to a 3-2 vote to issue the license to build and operate a casino in Pope County, the last of four casinos voters authorized under a 2018 constitutional amendment.
“I don’t see the wisdom of this going on any longer,” Lamberth said. “The politics and Pope County has muddied the waters somewhat; in my opinion, we know have the to determine if a casino is right for Pope County.”
“This issue is according to state law and according to our regulations we are bound to issue a license to a qualified candidate. We have nothing to gain from delaying this process anymore.”
The ARC’s licensure of Cherokee Nation Business came after the Arkansas Supreme Court last month ruled that the endorsement required for a casino license must come from elected local officials in office at the time of the application.
Pope County officials endorsed the CNB’s $225m proposal for Legends Resort and Casino. CNB on Friday submitted its $250,000 license fee.
CNB CEO Chuck Garrett told Arkansas Public Radio that the company was eager for litigation to come to an end in order to proceed with construction.
Gulfside Casino Partnership had been licensed and submitted its $250,000 fee, but Lamberth voided the project’s license and ordered the state to refund the fee.
Messages left late Friday with Gulfside seeking comment were not returned.
Gulfside’s proposal was initially supported in December 2018 by outgoing county judge Jim Ed Gibson and Russellville mayor Randy Horton. The ARC decided in March 2019 that it would accept only letters of support from currently serving local officials.
Voters in November 2018 approved Amendment 100, which requires that the new casinos in Pope and Jefferson counties have the endorsement of county officials.
The amendment also states that an endorsement issued by a mayor must be accompanied by a letter of support from the county judge or a resolution by the county Quorum Court.
On November 5, 2018, just over 54 percent of Arkansas voters approved the constitutional amendment to allow casino gaming and sports betting at two new locations in Pope and Jefferson counties, as well as the expansion of gambling operations at racetracks in Hot Springs and West Memphis.