Online Sports Betting Bill Introduced in Arkansas

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Arkansas lawmakers filed a bill on Monday that would allow statewide online sports betting through four commercial casinos in the state. Each casino may get up to three mobile skins, the bill would allow many as 12 statewide mobile licenses through four licensed casinos in the Natural State. New bettors would be allowed to register online, in addition to the traditional option of registering in person at a casino.

Rep. Lee Johnson, the sponsor of HB 1942, said that the state would benefit “substantially from authorizing online sports pools, to be conducted solely by casino licenses within the state and online sports pool operators with whom the casino licenses have a contractual agreement.”

Mobile License Allocation

The Arkansas Racing Commission would be given the regulatory role over the Arkansas sports betting industry and would be responsible for awarding mobile licenses to sportsbook operators and casinos. The commission will review each application received from the casinos. Applicants must have a valid casino license and be in due compliance with the commission before getting an authorized online sports betting license.

After submitting an application fee, applicants may also submit a contemporaneous request to the authority for an interim license, which would authorize the applicant to launch operation immediately as a mobile operator for up to one year, pending the commission’s full review of the applications. The regulator may also allow certain standards temporarily if a deadline for full compliance with permanent standards is extended at the time of approval.

Besides awarding licenses, the Arkansas Gaming Commission also decides on the types of bets and events that be wagered on. It is also responsible for outlining the geolocation requirements, record-keeping, and reporting the revenue figures, in addition to promoting and ensuring responsible gaming.

Anti-Gambling Opinions Shift

Arkansas was the eighth state to legalize sports betting following Supreme Court’s historic PASPA judgment in May 2018. However, sports betting is currently only legal at casinos in Arkansas, which started offering retail betting on July 1, 2019. This came after state voters defied the state’s decades-old anti-gambling perception, and supported a 2018 ballot measure that allowed up to four commercial casinos, each of which would open retail sportsbooks.

HB 1942 is likely to further move Arkansas from a gambling-opposing state to one looking for an expansive market that would bring more economic resources for the state. Many other historically anti-gambling states have also had similar changes in opinion. Now, the Natural State joins other conservative and gambling-averse southern states including Texas, Alabama, Georgia, and North Carolina that have considered online sports betting bills in 2021.

However, Arkansas has little time to consider any bill since the legislature is scheduled to end its session later this month. Still, Johnson’s bill highlights developing interest in online betting in one of the nation’s most historically anti-gambling states.

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