Arkansas State Racing Commission approves 17 new markets for sports betting

Vote paves way to expand state casinos’ sports betting

Matt Guy of Alexandria, Ky., tosses a bag during doubles competition while his son, Bret (third from right), watches at the World Championships of Cornhole tournament in Charleston, W.Va., in this July 18, 2014 file photo. Matt Guy was a five-time singles champion, and Bret Guy was the defending singles champion. (AP/John Raby)
Matt Guy of Alexandria, Ky., tosses a bag during doubles competition while his son, Bret (third from right), watches at the World Championships of Cornhole tournament in Charleston, W.Va., in this July 18, 2014 file photo. Matt Guy was a five-time singles champion, and Bret Guy was the defending singles champion. (AP/John Raby)

The Arkansas State Racing Commission on Thursday approved 17 new markets for sports betting, helping clear the way for the state's casinos to begin accepting wagers on sports that range from lacrosse to cornhole.

In a voice vote with no audible dissenters, the panel accepted the list of new markets requested by casino representatives and Jennifer Rushin, tax division manager for the casino gaming section at the state Department of Finance and Administration.

Commissioners agreed casinos will have to receive Rushin's approval before adding specific leagues within the newly approved markets to their offerings.

The new markets will supplement 15 sports markets already authorized for betting. The new markets, according to Scott Hardin, spokesperson for the Department of Finance and Administration, are bare knuckle fighting, bowling, bowl, cornhole, disc, field hockey, floorball, futsal, lacrosse, National Hot Rod Association drag racing, pool, world sailing, snooker, table tennis, volleyball, beach Volleyball and water polo.

After Arkansans voted to allow retail sports betting in 2018, each casino presented a book of offerings for approval. Since the state authorized mobile sports betting last year, having a single catalog of offerings rather than separate books for each casino has become more in line with the industry standard, Rushin said.

Three casinos operate in Arkansas: Saracen Casino Resort in Pine Bluff; Southland Casino Racing in West Memphis and Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort in Hot Springs.

The Racing Commission in a divided vote in 2021 awarded a license that would allow a new gambling facility, Legends Resort and Casino in Pope County. The Pope County license has been the subject of ongoing litigation, said Hardin in a written statement.

In hopes of streamlining regulation, Rushin met with casino representatives last month to review 56 markets for possible adoption.

"Out of the 56 that we looked at, we came up with these 17," Rushin said. "The caveat that they would continue to look at the book to see what else they would add."

Professional tag and slap fighting -- an emerging sport in which two competitors take turns slapping each other in the face -- were among the 56 sports that didn't make the list.

Some of the more obscure sports on the list drew questions from commissioners. Rushin explained that "bowl" is a type of lawn bowling where the object of the game is to roll a ball so that it stops close to a smaller ball.

Floorball is a type of floor hockey played indoors. Futsal is a soccer-like game played mainly indoors on hard courts smaller than football pitches. Disc sports are games played using flying discs and include ultimate frisbee and disc golf.

Carlton Saffa, chief marketing officer for Saracen Casino Resort, told commissioners the integrity of the data for each market is sound.

"Everything that we're looking at is something that has been approved in another state. In most instances, most states. In some instances as many as 30 states," he said.

Casinos will work with Rushin to review the specific integrity of the leagues within each of the markets, Saffa said.

"For example, we're asking for bowling to be an approved sport and that we work with Jennifer to determine whether or not there's a southern bowling league and a Canadian bowling league and a Chilean bowling league," he said.

Saffa said he hoped representatives from the three casinos could meet again soon to expand the state's catalog of sports markets and "provide Arkansas consumers with the same options for wagering that they would have in other states."

He noted that casinos operating in neighboring states, including Tennessee and Louisiana, have "robust catalogs."

"We don't want to be in a position where a consumer says, 'Why can't I bet on something' and we say, 'Well, Arkansas doesn't allow it,'" he said.

However, Saffa noted that casinos may opt not to offer all the new sports markets approved by the commission.

The 15 sports markets already authorized for betting, according to Hardin, are American football, Australian rules football, baseball, basketball, boxing, cricket, cycling, darts, golf, ice hockey, mixed martial arts, motorsports, rugby, soccer and tennis.

In 2022, sports wagers in Arkansas totaled $186 million, of which $122 million was wagered through mobile apps, Hardin said in an email.

This year, daily sports wagers through the state's casinos average more than $1.04 million. The average includes $873,600 wagered daily via mobile apps with the remaining $171,690 wagered on site at casino properties.

"We know 2023 will be a record year for sports betting in the state," Hardin said in the written statement.

State tax revenue from sports betting is averaging $417,500 each month in 2023, he said.

All casino revenue is taxed at the same rate whether the revenue is from sports betting, blackjack or slots. Casinos pay 13% in taxes on all revenue under $150 million for the year. When a casino passes $150 million in revenue for the year, the tax rate moves to 20% for all revenue above $150 million, according to Hardin.