The Arkansas Racing Commission on Thursday authorized Arkansas' casinos to contract with companies that offer multistate, progressive jackpot games on slot machines.
The commission's action clears the way for the Saracen Casino Resort in Pine Bluff to contract with IGT for the multijurisdictional wide area progressive system MegaJackpots.
With the commission's approval, Saracen Casino Resort will join participating casinos in Louisiana, Nevada, New Jersey and South Dakota, an IGT official said in a letter dated Aug. 30 to Arkansas Racing Commission Director Smokey Campbell.
The racing commission's rules approved in 2019 allow the state's casinos to start wide area progressive systems, said Jennifer Rushin, tax division manager for the casino gaming section at the state Department of Finance and Administration.
"They are slot machines that are linked to other states' slot machines, and you get the larger jackpots at the top and the vendor is responsible for the large jackpot, provided it is hit here," she said.
Saracen Casino Resort plans to "bring in primarily the Wheel of Fortune product, which is far and away the most popular product," said Carlton Saffa, chief market officer for Saracen Casino Resort. The IGT platform is considered to be the industry standard, he said.
"We will begin to tell Arkansas as soon as we can get the machines in, assuming you all approve this, that our machines quite literally will be linked to the Las Vegas strip," he told the racing commission. "That's what Amendment 100 [to the Arkansas Constitution] has allowed us to do."
Afterward, Saffa said he's confident the casino's machines will be linked to the slot machines on the Las Vegas strip by the end of this year.
System links will be installed to the Money Mania game, which has a primary reset amount of $100,000, and three separate Wheel of Fortune games with primary reset amounts of $200,000, $500,000 and $1 million, respectively, an IGT official said in a letter to Campbell. The games range from a penny-based game to a $5 game.
Afterward, Saffa said the largest jackpot paid at Saracen Casino Resort is $132,000.
The largest jackpot paid at Southland Casino Racing is $131,000, said Glen White, a spokesman for Southland's parent company, New York-based Delaware North.
"We haven't made a decision on No. 1," he said, referring to a question about whether Southland plans to contract with a company that offers multi-state, progressive jackpot games on slot machines.
A spokesperson for Oaklawn Racing and Gaming didn't respond by early Thursday night to questions about the largest jackpot paid by Oaklawn and whether Oaklawn plans to contract with a company that offers multi-state, progressive games on slot machines.
Amendment 100 to the Arkansas Constitution -- approved by voters in November 2018 -- authorizes the state Racing Commission to issue four casino licenses.
The licenses are authorized for expanding gambling operations at Oaklawn Racing and Gaming in Hot Springs and Southland Casino Racing in West Memphis, and for casinos in Jefferson and Pope counties with the endorsement of local officials.
Casinos are currently operating in Hot Springs, Pine Bluff and West Memphis.
Last November, the Pope County casino license was handed to Cherokee Nation Businesses to build Legends Resort & Casino after the Arkansas Racing Commission ruled to nullify the license previously awarded to Gulfside Casino Partnership. The Pope County casino license has long been a source of turmoil for the county and the state, resulting in numerous court cases. On July 11, the Russellville Planning Commission approved the proposed project.
In August, Secretary of State John Thurston said the Fair Play for Arkansas 2022 committee failed to submit sufficient signatures of registered voters to qualify its proposed constitutional amendment aimed at removing Pope County as a state-licensed casino site for the Nov. 8 general election ballot.
One of the two requirements to qualify a ballot measure for the ballot is the secretary of state's certification that the sponsor submitted the required number of valid signatures of registered voters on a petition. The other requirement to qualify a ballot measure for the ballot is that the state Board of Election Commissioners must certify a proposed ballot measure's popular name and ballot title under state law.
In August, the state Board of Election Commissioners declined to certify the popular name and ballot title for the Fair Play for Arkansas 2022 proposed constitutional amendment. The board approved a motion by board member Bilenda Harris-Ritter not to certify the ballot title for the proposed ballot measure because it didn't refer to the existing casino license in Pope County and is misleading.