FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — If March Madness is not exciting enough, people can now put a little extra on the game from anywhere in the state.
Until recently, the lights and sounds and thrill of a big win could only be enjoyed at a physical casino in Arkansas.
“Sportsbook, in particular, we see people come up from Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma. And they love it,” Zack Gillham with Oaklawn Casino said.
Sports gambling has been legal in Arkansas since 2019, but until the mobile option was added this month, people had to go to one of three casinos. The closest one to Northwest Arkansas is Oaklawn in Hot Springs.
“That’s a six-hour round trip to place a sports wager. I just can’t imagine there are many people that are willing to do that,” Arkansas Racing Commission spokesperson Scott Hardin said.
That is not an issue anymore. As of March 4, mobile sports betting is now legal across the state. In-person sports betting has already been fairly lucrative.
“The first bet was actually placed in July of 2019. Since that time, Arkansans have wagered about $100 million on sports,” Hardin said.
Sports wagers have more than doubled from 2020 to 2021, bringing in $2 million in state tax revenue. And mobile sports betting will be taxed the same as any other wager.
Most of the tax revenue goes into the general fund. The rest is split up between the city, county and Arkansas Racing Commission.
“Some of it goes to highways and there is a rule now that says the state has to dedicate a certain amount every year to problem gambling,” Hardin said.
“It affects the brain the same way that methamphetamine or cocaine affects the brain through the release of dopamine,” licensed clinical social worker Kristy Chance said.
Chance has worked with problem gamblers.
“Gambling Disorder is actually one of the only disorders that’s related to addiction that’s in the category with drugs and alcohol,” she said.
She says being able to gamble on your phone just makes it easier to access and harder on recovering addicts. But with or without these new rules, people were already placing bets on their phones. She tested it herself.
“I was able to go on, set up an account, say that I lived in Bentonville, Arkansas and I was able to, whatever money I wanted to put on my account, I was able to do right then and start gambling,” Chance said.
Chance said the main difference now is the tax revenue. 51% of mobile sports betting revenue has to go to the casino in state. So even if a casino partners up with a company like MGM or Draftkings to offer the service, most of the money will still benefit Arkansas. Oaklawn is working to finalize its sports betting app.
“In-game play, futures, parlays, alternate lines, it’s going to be a lot of fun,” Gillham said.
And when it is ready, it expects a lot of action as the Razorbacks make future runs in March Madness.
“Anything to do with Arkansas Razorbacks, if they’re doing well, whether it is baseball or basketball, people are very in tune. They love to support their own school,” Gillham said.
The Arkansas Racing Commission thinks sports wagers, and therefore revenue will double or even triple with these new rules.