Arkansas Gaming Slowly Rebounding But Sports Still Sidelined
The handle in Arkansas for Electronic Games of Skill (EGS) started to bounce back nicely in June after a few months of coronavirus-related closures.
But sports betting in Arkansas, after a decent start to the year by its standards, is still on the bench.
Arkansas took in a combined $340 million of EGS handle in June at its three casinos – Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort in Hot Springs, Southland Casino Racing in West Memphis and Saracen Casino Annex in Pine Bluff. Southland took in the most at $200 million, getting in the ballpark of its usual monthly haul with only half of its terminals available because of social distancing rules in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
But of those three facilities, only Oaklawn recorded any sports betting handle in June, and that was just $1,189. For now, sports betting is not an option at any of the three casinos, one of many wagering options unavailable for now with facilities coping with new safety measures.
Arkansas Gaming Slowed By Coronavirus
Like casinos around the country, coronavirus forced the closure of all thee Arkansas casinos for several weeks. All three reopened May 18 with some restrictions.
Oaklawn is not offering its Race & Sportsbook, nor Roulette, according to its website. In addition, all guests and employees must wear masks and have their temperature checked before entering the casino. Slots and Blackjack tables are operating at half capacity and only three people are allowed on each side of the table for Craps. Okalawn had live racing but that ended in early May.
Southland reopened some of its table games on June 8 at one-third capacity, per state guidelines meant to reduce the spread of coronavirus. Southland has a reduced number of slots games available and only Blackjack and carnival games, but no sports betting, simulcast betting, Craps or Roulette.
Saracen also reopened at one-third capacity. A new casino is scheduled to open in 2020 at the site, but for now Saracen is using an annex with 300 slots.
Lack of Mobile Option in Arkansas
Once again, the complete lack of action for Arkansas sports betting demonstrates how much the state is falling short of its revenue potential by not having a mobile option. States with an active mobile sports betting market, such as New Jersey and Pennsylvania, have continued to draw decent revenue amid the COVID-19 pandemic, albeit in smaller numbers.
Those markets are much larger than Arkansas so a direct comparison isn’t fair. But what about Iowa? Arkansas and Iowa have nearly identical populations of just over 3 million. Iowa’s system is not perfect because it makes bettors sign up at a casino to participate in mobile sports betting, but the state drew $12.7 million in sports betting handle in June. It’s fair to wonder if Arkansas, surrounded by states without a true mobile sports betting option (Mississippi has mobile betting but only in person at a casino), might be capable of drawing similar numbers if it had mobile sports betting.
There was a bit of good news for Arkansas gaming recently. The state lottery set a record with $532 million in lottery revenue for the fiscal year that ended June 30, according to Arkansasonline.com. But the amount raised for college scholarships was $89.4 million, down $9.2 million from the previous year.
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Jim Tomlin has more than 30 years of experience in sports journalism as an editor and writer. He has covered pro and college sports from football, baseball, basketball, soccer, golf, motorsports and more for publications such as the Tampa Bay Times, SaturdayDownSouth.com, SaturdayTradition.com and FanRag Sports. He now lends his expertise to TopUSCasinos.com, among other duties.