September 17, 2018 by

Arkansas Grapples with Possibly Expanding Casino Gambling

The burgeoning casino industry in the United States seemingly has passed some states by.  One such state is Arkansas, where Bill Clinton grew up before becoming President of the United States.  Conservative and religious factions have kept the state from approving land based casino gambling in the state.  Online gambling is also not allowed and many residents of Arkansas have gone outside the state to play at land based casinos and to access online casinos.

Oklahoma has long had Native American casinos.  The situation regarding online casinos is more complex as the law known as UIGEA has prevented most states from implementing online gambling.  One of the big advantages gamers at online casinos have over those at land based casinos is the large number of casino bonuses they can access simply by depositing some money and registering for the bonus by using the correct bonus codes.


Change is Coming to Arkansas

A group called Driving Arkansas Forward has gathered close to 100,000 legally valid signatures on a petition to place a referendum on the ballot this November that would expand legal gambling in the state.

At the present time, Arkansas allows only video poker and some types of electronic gambling machines at two race tracks, Southland, a track in West Memphis that features greyhound racing and Oaklawn, a track in Hot Springs that is dedicated to horse racing.

The proposal to be put to the voters in November would allow casino gambling at the two race tracks and would also allow for the construction of two land based casinos.

The Opposition

Deep seated religious antipathy toward gambling has long been a feature of politics and culture in Arkansas.  The opponents of the measure might say that it would drive Arkansas backward were it to be passed.  As Jerry Cox, the chairman of the Arkansas Family Council said, “I don’t believe there is any grassroots groundswell whatsoever in Arkansas for more casino gambling.”

The Backers

The main impetus to expanding gambling in Arkansas came in a statement by a lawyer for the organization, Nate Steel, who said that, “It’s time to keep that money where we live to support our economy, improve our infrastructure, and create new jobs.”

It may seem ironic but two Oklahoma Native American tribes, the Quapaw and the Cherokee both from Oklahoma, have put up the bulk of the $2.2 million the group has raised thus far.

It is also ironic that neither the dog racing track nor the horse racing track has publicly stated its position vis a vis the proposition.  The Arkansas Times published an opinion piece that made the claim that even though the tracks are officially silent on the proposition, they are secretly 100% behind it.  The blog argues that if they were against it, they would be saying so openly and would be spending money in the hopes of defeating it.

Revenue Versus Values

The debate will likely come down to the classic and very modern debate between money and values.  The greyhound track is in West Memphis which is just over the Mississippi River from the tourist haven of Memphis.  Expanding the dog track into full casino gambling would certainly increase the number of people who cross the river to gamble in Arkansas.  It could increase hotel and motel business in the area as well as create jobs for restaurant staff, drivers, and many others.

The horse racing track in Hot Springs is in the location of a national park.  Hot Springs National Park is far from the most frequented national park but casino gambling may increase the number of people who come to Hot Springs.  This is especially true as Arkansas is a centrally located state, drawing people from Illinois to the north as well as Texas to the south.

Pope County is between the Ouachita National Forest and the Ozark National Forest.  These outdoors venues attract many hikers every year.  A casino in the neighborhood would simply make these spots all the more attractive.

Jefferson County is a short drive south of the state capital in Little Rock.

The supporters of the proposition feel that Arkansas is losing money both in the form of taxes and in the form of wages to gambling venues in neighboring states.

The values-centered opposition is very strong in the state.  Arkansas is in the heart of the American Bible Belt where Christian values still hold a great deal of power.

Potential Impact on Sports Betting

The people of Arkansas are torn between the desires to expand casino gambling in the state or to remain loyal to their religious tenets but there is one universal value all Arkansans share: a rabid loyalty to the Arkansas Razorbacks college football team.

As the college football season gets underway, the people of Arkansas would like nothing more than to be able to place a bet on their beloved Razorbacks.  Sports betting may yet come to Arkansas but for now the people of the state who want to put some money on their team have to cross state lines to do so.

The general opposition to gambling in Arkansas has kept progress toward legalizing sports betting in the state far behind many other states.  Sports betting has been a multi-billion dollar illegal underground operation throughout the United States for decades.  It is uncertain how much money Arkansans have bet illegally on sports in the past thirty years.  If sports betting were legalized and regulated in the state, there is little doubt that state tax revenues would increase.

So, the news out of Arkansas that there is a strong movement to increase the availability of casino gambling in the state may be actually directed more toward legalizing sports betting rather than expanding blackjack and roulette.  The latter pursuit will also bring new revenues to the state if the proposition is passed in November but the great gambling revenue potential may actually lie in sports betting.