Is it Legal to Gamble in Arkansas?

Arkansas is a state with a long history of gambling which, at one point, rivaled that of Las Vegas or Atlantic City. Over the years, much of it has changed, and the once excellent gambling hub of Hot Springs that housed over ten major casinos back in the 1920s is now reduced to just one casino and racetrack blended into an establishment now known as a racino. The laws and regulations changed drastically after World War II and are still being amended from time to time. Still, at the moment, the laws in Arkansas see only Pari-mutuel wagering on horse and dog racing, with the addition of electronic machines, like slots, lottery, and bingo, as legal forms of gambling in Arkansas.

In this article, we will present an overview of gambling laws in Arkansas, as well as the places in Arkansas where you can go in search of gambling options.

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Online Gambling in Arkansas

Although online gambling is not explicitly mentioned in the Arkansas State Law, all forms of gambling that are not licensed and regulated by the state, like racetracks/casinos and lottery, are illegal, including online gambling. Also, under the code § 5-66-104 of the law, it is unlawful to keep any devices that can be used for gambling unsanctioned by the state or not performed on designated sites.

Playing at offshore gambling sites is deemed illegal, however, there is no federal law that prohibits players and no one has ever been prosecuted for doing so.

Gambling Laws in Arkansas — The Law Overview and History

The Natural State, as Arkansas is known as, had had a turbulent gambling history, dating to the time of the Civil War when Hot Springs was the center of all gambling activity in Arkansas. This continued until 1967 law when the casinos in Hot Springs were shut down. It has taken decades and many changes in the law to get to the current situation in which some forms of gambling are allowed. However, strictly speaking, gambling, in its broadest terms, is made illegal.

The Arkansas Gambling Code

To define gambling and betting and differentiate them from what it means to run a gambling house, one needs to view Section 5-66-106 of Arkansas Code that defines betting as illegal in the following: “It is unlawful for any person to bet any money or other valuable thing or any representative of anything that is esteemed of value on any game prohibited by state law.”

The code also stipulates the following for the person caught in the act: “If a person bets any money or any valuable thing on any game of hazard or skill, upon conviction he or she is guilty of a violation and shall be fined in any sum not less than ten dollars ($10.00) nor more than twenty-five dollars ($25.00)”

In terms of running gambling houses and having gaming devices, the following is said: “It is unlawful for any owner or occupant of any house, outbuilding, or other building or any steamboat, or other vessel to knowingly permit or suffer any games, tables, or banks mentioned in 5-66-104 or permit or suffer any kind of gaming under any name, to be carried on or exhibited in his or her house, outbuilding, or other building, or on board of any steamboat, flatboat, keelboat, or other vessel on any of the waters within this state.”

The punishment for running a gambling house entails a fine of no less than $100 and an imprisonment of not less than thirty (30) days nor more than one (1) year.

These punishments for running gambling houses and having gambling devices, as well as simple wagering, are indeed archaic, as you can see things such as steamboats mentioned and “heavy” punishments between $10 and $25 for betting, so there is a clear need for a change in the regulation and possibly more leniency.

However, not all from the gambling code was directed at curbing gambling. Namely, the Arkansas Horse Racing Law, § 23-110-101 et seq., and the Arkansas Greyhound Racing Law, § 23-111-101 et seq allow Pari-Mutuel betting on horse and dog races. These regulations have been updated in 2005, with the Act 1151 of 2005 allowing these racetracks to install electronic games of skills such as slots, blackjack, poker and video poker machines and thus provide a full casino experience to their visitors.

In order to play bingo, lotto, and pari-mutuels, players need to be over 18, while the required age for racetracks/casinos is 21.

The Timeline of Arkansas Gambling Laws

The following is a timeline of the most important legal events in Arkansas’ gambling history:

1967: The current Arkansas Gambling Code enacted. Hot Springs gambling terminated. The introduction of Pari-mutuel betting on greyhound and horse racing.

2005: The legislation under the Act 1151 gave authorization for wagering on electronic games of skill conducted by franchise holders which has lead to racetracks adding slots, video poker machines, and other machines.

2007: Charitable bingo and raffles included under the legal forms of gaming with the “Charitable Bingo and Raffles Enabling Act.”

2009: The state lottery was initiated and became known as the “scholarship lottery”, as part of its funds go to subsidize education and scholarships. This act is called the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery Act. In the following years, both Powerball and Mega Millions national lotteries were added.

The following is a summary of all forms of gambling you can enjoy in Arkansas, with a quick overview and legal status.

Land-based casinos: Land-based casinos as we know them from Las Vegas or Atlantic City are not allowed, however, as racetracks are permitted to include electronic games like slots and video poker, they are now considered racinos (racetracks+casinos). Also, there are no tribal casinos in Arkansas, although, under the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, they could be given the right to establish a land-based casino on their territory.

Sports and race betting: The only legalized form of sports and race betting is the Pari-mutuel betting on horse and greyhound racing. The 5-66-114 Section of the Arkansas Code stipulates that “It is unlawful for any person, partnership, or corporation to receive or transmit information in the State of Arkansas relating to football, baseball, basketball, hockey, polo, tennis, horse racing, boxing, or any other sport or game for the purpose of gaming.”

Lottery and Bingo: As of 2009, the lottery is fully legalized, and more than $700 million has been given to fund students’ scholarships and over $2 billion in prizes to winners. Bingo halls are also legal.

Live Poker: Live poker games are allowed but are limited to racetracks/casinos. Home poker games are not allowed, but, as we said before, the fines are minimal.

Where to Gamble in Arkansas?

Many of these amendments to the law we mentioned here are the result of the struggle of Arkansas to keep players wagering in their state rather than going to neighboring Mississippi and Oklahoma that are the states with much more player-friendly gambling laws and regulations. The current legislation allows for two racetracks in Arkansas to operate as casinos as well, with two more coming, one to be located in Pope County near Russellville and the other to be located in Jefferson County, in the vicinity of Pine Bluff.

At the moment, players have the following racetracks/casinos at their disposal: Southland Casino Racing and Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort.

Southland Casino Racing

Southland Casino Racing is located on 1550 N. Ingram Blvd, West Memphis, AR 72301, and is a 24/7 racecourse and casino that spans across 80,000 square feet of gaming space. There are more than 2,000 slots and a variety of live table games such as Blackjack, Craps, and Roulette. Southland Casino Racing is a greyhound racing course that offers both live events and simulcast wagering. Live races are run five days a week, while simulcast wagering is provided 7 days a week. For those visitors who prefer to have excellent dining experience along with gambling, Southland Casino Racing has got you covered with six different dining options and cuisines.

Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort

Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort is the leading horse racing track in the country and is home to a $1 million worth Arkansas Derby. The racetrack was established back in 1904 and has seen many changes and upgrades that have now led to Oaklawn being a full casino resort with over 1,200 slots and video poker machines, as well as 21 table games featuring Blackjack, Craps, Texas Hold’Em, and more.

The resort is located on 2705 Central Avenue, Hot Springs, AR 71901, and is open every day. The racing calendar features live and simulcast events regularly backed with various racing promotions designed to help you get the most out of your horse racing bets.

FAQ

Is online gambling legal in Arkansas?

The only form of legal online gambling is off-track betting on greyhounds and horses.

Are casinos legal in Arkansas?

Casinos that operate under racetracks are legal in Arkansas.

Are greyhound and horse racing legal in Arkansas?

Yes. Greyhound and horse racing are legal and take place at Southland Casino Racing and Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort, respectively.

Can I play online poker in Arkansas?

Yes, you can, but only if you go to an offshore online casino. Online poker is not licensed in Arkansas.

What is the minimum gambling age in Arkansas?

To wager on Pari-mutuel horse and greyhound racing, as well as lottery, you must be over 18, while to enter race tracks/casinos, you need to be at least 21.