On  Monday, Arkansas sports betting went live after Oaklawn Racing and Casino Resort officially opened the doors to its onsite sportsbook. As a result, Arkansas now joins the expanding list of states offering legal sports betting across the U.S.

First Arkansas Sports Betting Wager Placed

Wayne Smith, the general manager at Oaklawn, placed the ceremonial first Arkansas sports betting wager with a $5 flier on the Dallas Cowboys to beat the New York Giants on the first Sunday of the NFL regular season.

Formerly known as Oaklawn Park Race Track, the venue, located in the city of Hot Springs, rebranded as Oaklawn Racing and Casino Resort in March. An ongoing renovation project scheduled to be completed late next year will cap off Oaklawn’s transition from racetrack to “racino” with a 28,000 square foot expanded gambling floor.

Smith has advised local table games and slots players that they must wait another “18 to 19 months to get it all done,” However, he told Bloodhorse.com that converting Oaklawn’s existing racebook into a sportsbook was relatively easy. Per Smith, three video walls will be added “in the next few weeks,” and self-service wagering kiosks have already been installed throughout the facility.

In a press release, Smith celebrated Oaklawn’s first mover status in Arkansas’ rapidly evolving gambling market:

“We’re excited to now be offering sports wagering. It’s a new level of entertainment for our guests.”

Oaklawn’s sportsbook – which is powered by SBTech on the backend – will be open seven days a week between the hours of 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. local time.

Arkansas is the eighth state – joining Delaware, New Jersey, Mississippi, West Virginia, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island – to launch legal sports betting since May of last year, when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a federal ban on the industry outside of Nevada. And while the Natural State moved to regulate sports betting last November, it is the first to go live this year.

Oaklawn Opening Completes Voter Approved Process

Voters approved Issue 4 in November with over 54 percent of ballots submitted supporting the dual sports betting / casino gambling expansion measure.

Oaklawn applied to offer sports betting soon afterward, and on June 14 of this year, the Arkansas Racing Commission (ARC) approved the venue’s license.

Sports betting revenue will be taxed at 13 percent of gross revenue. But as Smith told Bloodhorse.com, Oaklawn isn’t necessarily expecting the new vertical to be a money maker right out of the gate:

“You’re seeing some good numbers across the country in certain states that have put sports betting out there. I really can’t tell you what we’re going to see here in Arkansas. To us, quite honestly, the fact that we’re able to do it is great. It’s an amenity that we’re going to be offering our casino and our racing fans. That’s really all we’re thinking of on sports wagering.

Smith added: “It’s an amenity that we want to offer to our fans and our guests, and we’ll see how it goes. A year from now, I may be telling you it was gangbusters. It did phenomenal.”

Oddly enough, the 13 percent tax reduces the current gambling tax of 18 percent, a cut that the state government estimates will produce $36 million over the next two fiscal years.

Announcing her opposition to both sports betting and full-scale casino gambling as authorized by Issue 4, Governor Asa Hutchinson cited budget concerns among her many reservations:

“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.”

What Comes Next for Arkansas Sports Betting?

Oaklawn looked to be a longshot to become Arkansas’ first sportsbook provider back in March, when Southland Gaming and Racing in West Memphis announced that its first wagers would arrive “soon.”

But the Delaware North-owned racino was forced to delay its sportsbook indefinitely in the wake of a contract dispute with backend operator Miomni. That same dispute forced Delaware North’s property in West Virginia to shut down sports wagering in March.

Speaking to the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, Delaware North spokesman Glen White confirmed that Southland’s sportsbook ambitions are on hold for now:

“At this time we don’t have an opening date for the sportsbook. We are working toward beginning construction this summer on the new gaming complex and hotel and will be adding surface parking this spring to offset the parking that will be lost from that construction.”

As for Oaklawn, the venue hopes to integrate online / mobile wagering by August.

Jonathan Zaun

One of Gamble Online's first dedicated reporters, Jonathan has spent well over a decade reporting on the gaming industry. While breaking legal news is his main area of expertise, Jonathan is an avid blackjack player & strategist who follows professional poker closely.

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