Poker Laws in Arkansas

Important AR Notes

  • AR residents can play at poker rooms offshore legally
  • iGaming in Arkansas is a longshot in the coming years
  • There are no traditional poker rooms in the state
  • Home poker games are illegal
  • Electronic Texas Hold’em is available in Oaklawn

Cliff Notes

  • 2020
  • 0 never
Last updated: August 4, 2017 by Savanah
The state’s Supreme Court decided not to allow three privately owned casinos to operate to be on the November ballot last year, and it doesn’t look like it will be on this years ballot either. Currently, they do not allow land-based casinos, both commercial and tribal casinos. Casino expansion in Arkansas is still one of the most controversial topics in the state. The latest poll by a local news station saw citizens split on the subject. On the subject of, “If tribal gaming would be good for Arkansas?”, 49% said yes and 51% said no.

RECOMMENDED POKER WEBSITE FOR ARKANSAS
If Arkansas were to legalize poker over the internet, they most likely would enter into interstate compacts with other states to increase the pool of poker players. Until then, Arkansans can play at the reputable BetOnline site.

Operating an online poker site is illegal in the state of Arkansas. The Natural State’s strict approach to gambling in general means that there is no regulatory body – currently or in the pipeline – over a potential online gambling industry, nor has there ever been any mention of providing licenses to online poker operators. Despite its small population, offshore online poker sites report that Arkansans regularly open accounts and play at their sites which is legal to do so.

Future Outlook of Online Poker in Arkansas – Estimated date of legalization: 2019-2020

The following graph tracks our expected legislation of online poker in Arkansas on a state law level. It is currently already legal on a Federal level. This graph monitors the current rise or fall of expected legalization.

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Recent Activity
The chances of online poker becoming a reality in Arkansas in the near future are very slim, considering the state’s somewhat archaic views on gambling in general.  With a population of just less than three million – with the majority living rural – the introduction of online poker in Arkansas probably won’t come from public pressure, if at all.  Arkansas’ gambling industry is light years behind other states and it will take a long time before operators realize the potential there is to be had by offering online poker to residents.

If ever there was a chance for online poker to come to Arkansas, it would be in the form of an interstate compact to increase the player pools of other states.  However, lack of public interest, strong anti-gambling legislation and no natural partners, make a poor case for potential online poker in the near future.

In addition, the state very recently amended its gambling laws to include the prohibition of wagering on electronic games of skill (read: poker) at licensed racetrack parks if players are not physically present at the track.  Many take this to mean a ban on online poker since the player is not physically present at the online poker room. Section 23-113-201 [A] of the law notes that: “Wagers on electronic games of skill may be made only by individuals physically present at the location on the grounds of the franchise holder’s authorized racetrack park site as set forth in subsection (a) of this section where electronic games of skill are located and being operated in accordance with this chapter.”

In 2012, the Arkansas Supreme Court affirmed a ruling against internet sweepstake cafes [B], that operators of sweepstake machine gambling businesses are subject to arrest and prosecution for the breaking of Arkansas gambling laws.  The Supreme Court upheld an order by a lower county circuit court against Cancun Cyber Café and Business Center which operated, among other things, a ‘sweepstakes promotion’.

Having made a strong case for why we WON’T be seeing regulated online poker in Arkansas anytime soon, one thing should be remembered.  Changes were made to the state’s gambling laws in the mid 2000’s to accommodate the expansion of electronic games of skill at racetracks.  The decision was based on growing competition from neighboring states and the fear of losing business to neighboring tracks.  This reason could ultimately be the trigger to amend the state’s online gambling laws if track operators see that they are losing customers to other states who may enter the online gambling sphere in the future.

Online Poker Prosecution in Arkansas

According to Prof. John M. Norwood in his paper entitled Gambling in Arkansas in the Post Lottery Environment [C], there is very little chance of a person being prosecuted for playing online poker in their own home, although this changes when the gambling is taking place in a public sphere.  He writes:

“No Arkansas statute or precedent specifically addresses the question of whether or not a person playing poker online while physically located in Arkansas would be in violation of Arkansas law.  While it seems extremely unlikely that a prosecutor would bring charges against an individual for online gaming within the confines of his or her home, such activities would seem to be technically illegal under Arkansas law.  If the gambler were using public property (such as a computer provide by a public employer) or even the property of another private party (such as a private employer), the likelihood of a criminal prosecution would of course be much greater.”

History of Gambling in Arkansas

1880s
Two factions, the Flynns and the Dorans, fight for control of the gambling scene in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
1889
Seven Hot Springs police officers killed during Hot Springs Gunfight between illegal gambling factions.
1905
Oaklawn Park racing track presents its first racing card and the first race is won by the horse Duelist.
1927
Beginning of several decades of Hot Springs as a gambling mecca, with ten major casinos and other small gambling establishments in the town.   At its peak, Hot Springs boasted 103 casinos.
1928
One of the best known personalities in poker history, Amarillo Slim was born in Arkansas.  He went on to become a Texan poker scene legend.
1930’s
Modern racing returns to Oaklawn Park under the auspices of the Arkansas Racing Commission.
1936
Establishment of the Arkansas Derby with a $5K purse.
1945
Arkansas race tracks asked to suspend operations because of the World War II war effort.
1948
Prosecuting attorney Col. Sid McMath leads a public battle against gambling in Hot Springs and gambling comes to a halt in the area.
1954
Illegal gambling resumed after the election of Orval Faubus as governor.
1955
Southland Greyhound Park opens its doors.
1967
Republican officeholders shut down Hot Springs gambling industry, burning casino equipment and boarding up casinos.
1990
Permanent Sunday racing comes to Oaklawn Park.
2000
Pari mutuel electronic system, Instant Racing, introduced to allow players to wager on previously run races.
2005
Public referendum to allow expanded games of skill at racetracks passes by just 89 votes.
2007
Arkansas Supreme Court upholds law authorizing tracks to add expanded games of skill AND charity bingo legalized.
2008
State constitution amended to allow the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery.
2014
Oaklawn Park and Southland Park, the states two racinos, generated $3.53 billion in gross revenue ($235 million net). They paid-out 93% of their gross winnings, with an average of $3 million per month going to state taxes.
2016
Letting voters decide on whether or not to approve three privately owned casinos in the state almost made the November ballot.

Land Based Poker in Arkansas

Players searching for fast paced real money games of poker in Arkansas won’t have much luck.  The same rules that govern general gambling in the state are taken to apply to poker as well. Section 5-66-106, defining the term ‘betting’ states that, “it is unlawful for any person to bet any money or other valuable thing or any representative of any thing that is esteemed of value on any game prohibited by 5-66-104.”

No distinction is made on whether the gambling activity is a game of skill or not.  The broad definition essentially covers everything – including poker.

Poker operators are also covered in a section of their own, under 5-66-104, and their crimes and punishment are detailed as well: “Every person who shall set up, keep, or exhibit any gaming table or gambling device, commonly called A. B. C., E. O., roulette, rouge et noir, or any faro bank, or any other gaming table or gambling device, or bank of the like or similar kind, or of any other description although not herein named, be the name or denomination what it may, adapted, devised, or designed for the purpose of playing any game of chance, or at which any money or property may be won or lost, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor and on conviction shall be fined in any sum not less than one hundred dollars ($100) and may be imprisoned any length of time not less than thirty (30) days nor more than one (1) year.”

The bottom line is that while there is no specific rule barring the game of poker, it is deemed illegal to bet on a game of cards (and that includes poker).  The rules are spelled out in Section 5-66-112 [D] entitled Card Games – Betting, where it is stated: “a person bets any money or any valuable thing on any game of brag, bluff, poker, seven-up, three-up, twenty-one, vingt-et-un, thirteen cards, the odd trick, forty-five, whist, or at any other game of cards known by any name now known to the law or with any other or new name or without any name, upon conviction he or she is guilty of a violation and shall be fined in any sum not less than ten dollars ($10.00) nor more than twenty-five dollars ($25.00).”

So what ARE the options for live poker fans in Arkansas?  Not much, unfortunately.  In recent years, changes were made to gambling laws, allowing licensed racetracks to expand their games offerings to games of skill, as long as they were electronic in nature.  That means that both Oaklawn Park and Southland Greyhound Park offer poker-type games played out on video monitors.  Both properties hold regular daily poker tournaments – played on a flat screen – with Southland offering six tables of cash games which include limit hold ’em, no limit hold ’em, limit Omaha High and pot limit Omaha.  Oaklawn opened the state’s first electronic poker room which features Texas Hold ’em.

Home poker games for real money or objects of value are illegal in Arkansas. There are several free poker leagues, such as the All in Poker League which holds special events across the state.

Gambling Laws in Arkansas

The laws dominating gambling in Arkansas are specified in the section Land Based Poker in Arkansas above.  The state’s laws cover practically every type of gambling and only allow pari-mutuel wagers on horse and dog races, limited charitable gaming options and the state licensed lottery.  Amendments were made to gambling laws in 2009, where racetracks were allowed to introduce games of skill on an electronic monitor, alongside slots and video poker.  These changes introduced electronic poker and blackjack to the gaming rooms at the tracks.

The legal age to bet on horses and dogs and to play the lottery in Arkansas is 18.  At the age of 21, players can try out the video slots, blackjack and poker terminals at the state endorsed tracks.

Gambling Allowed in Arkansas

Casinos in Arkansas

While the definition of ‘casino’ is broadly taken to mean live gambling action, the closest that players will come to enjoying a Vegas-style casino environment in Arkansas is at the state’s two licensed racetracks, Oaklawn Park and Southland Park.

Located along the Interstate 40 and a short drive from Memphis, Southland Park was built in the late 1950s but was given a facelift in 2012.  They completed another $37.4 million expansion project in late 2014 which added a 41,000-square-foot building, 150 seated restaurant and sports bar, and 500 new gaming machines which brings their total to 1,950 machines including slot and video games.  They also offer blackjack, craps, roulette, Let it Ride, 3-Card Poker and is open 24 hours a day.

Oaklawn Park is situated in what was once considered the original Sin City, Hot Springs, and boasts a casino with around 650 machines.  In accordance with Arkansas gambling laws, all the table games are electronic, with dealers who handle the chips.

Arkansas’ two racinos, Southland Park and Oaklawn Park, brought in $3.53 billion in gross revenue in 2014. Both casinos paid-out 93% of their gross revenue, leaving $235 million in net winnings. On average, $3 million per month goes to state taxes. The casino industry in Arkansas is healthy and growing.

Racing  in Arkansas

Racing in Arkansas comes under the regulation of the Arkansas State Racing Commission [E] whose mission is to, “regulate thoroughbred and greyhound racing in the State of Arkansas, as provided in the enabling legislation; whereby, the best interest of the state an d its citizens are preserved and protected.”

Betting on racing is the primary gambling option for residents of Arkansas, and races take place at the two state endorsed tracks, Oaklawn Park and Southland Park.

Oaklawn Park offers live horse racing with a $2 entrance fee, although there is no fee for simulcasts of live horse and dog racing.  A brand new service offered to racing fans is the launch of OaklawnAnywhere.com [F], offering Arkansas residents a way to watch and wager on races through their mobile devices, such as smart phones and tables.  The service is a result of a partnership between Oaklawn and Churchill Downs subsidiary, TwinSpires.com.

Southland Park’s dog racing tracks run five days a week and includes afternoon and evening racing.  Visitors can view live greyhound racing and simulcast racing on tracks from around the rest of the United States.  For a small entrance fees, viewers can sit indoors and enjoy a view of the track and benefit from race monitor tables.  The track also offers self-service type betting machines in smoking and non smoking sections.

Lotteries in Arkansas

Arkansas was very late coming into the lottery game and only launched the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery [G] in recent years. Players need to be 18 years or older to play the lottery and all sales of tickets are for cash only through licensed lottery retailers.  Tickets may be purchased by residents of any states as long as they are physically located in Arkansas when making the purchase.  The lottery offers what it terms ‘online games’, essentially terminal generated games such as Powerball, Mega Millions, Cash 3, Cash 4, etc.  The games are dispensed by computer equipment.  Instant game prizes need to be claimed within 90 days while terminal generated jackpots need to be collected within 180 days.

Charitable Gambling in Kentucky

Charitable gambling is Arkansas is governed by the Charitable Bingo and Raffles Enabling Act [H], 2007. The law allows, “the game of bingo or a raffle conducted by a licensed authorized organization shall not be a lottery prohibited by the Arkansas Constitution, Article 19, Section 14, if all net receipts over and above the actual cost of conducting the game of bingo or raffle are used only for charitable, religious, or philanthropic purposes.”

Essentially, nonprofit organizations are allowed to offer legal bingo games and raffles under the law that was passed after 10 years in the making.  Proceeds of the games have to fund a licensed charity and the location where the game is being run has to have a special license from the State of Arkansas.  Taxes need to be paid on the equipment involved, which are used in turn to regulate the state’s bingo industry. There are currently hundreds of licensed bingo rooms in Arkansas.

Some of the key points in the law include:

  • Each nonprofit organization may only offer two nights a week of bingo.
  • Each nightly event may not run for longer than five hours of bingo play.
  • Jackpot winnings are limited to no more than $500 on a single jackpot.
  • A location may not award more than $7,500 on any given night.

Author: Joseph Falchetti (twitter)
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References and Citations

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