Arkansas – a state typically renowned for being anti-gambling – is set to open its first casino on April 1st, 2019.
The state – which has, up until now, taken a fairly conservative approach to gambling – has always frowned upon any forms of gambling bar horse and dog racing. Until now, the state hasn’t offered any form of land-based gambling (both in the state, tribal, or non-tribal territories.)
However, over the past few years, gambling has steadily declined, and in 2005, a new law was passed that allowed racetracks to become ‘racinos’ – allowing the operator to install a few select gaming machines on the premises. While this was – experts said – a positive move towards the legalization of casino gambling in the state, it never proved successful (in terms of opening a land-based casino), until now.
In 2018, there was mounting pressure on legislators to allow land-based casinos to operate in the state. As VSO state:
“A proposal for casino legalization did the rounds and got enough signatures to feature on the November midterm ballot.
Issue 4 called for the creation of a casino in four different counties. It got passage with 54.1% of the vote. This means that casinos will be coming to the Oaklawn horse track in Hot Springs and the Southland dog track in West Memphis. The two other counties able to open casinos are Jefferson County and Pope County.”
However, recent research – from the University of Arkansas Economic Department Institute revealed that the state GDP could rise by as much as $6 billion in the next decade, if land-based casinos were allowed to open in the region. On top of this, they estimate that some 6,000 jobs would be created as a result of the move, too.
With this information in-hand, the Arkansas Racing Commission (the regulatory body in charge of issuing licenses) decided to look at allowing land-based casino licenses. They decided that there will be a tax rate of 13% of the initial $150 million in earnings. Once operators reach this threshold, the taxation rate will rise to 20%. The Racing Commission is using this incentivized tax format to tempt operators into applying for licenses.
The First Two Licenses Are Issued
Finally, the Arkansas Racing Commission decided to issue its first two licenses – and this allows operators to offer punters a wide variety of casino games and slot machines. The operators who applied (successfully) for these licenses are the Southland Park Gaming and Racing Facility, in West Memphis, and the Oaklawn Racing and Gaming venue in Hot Springs.
Come April 1st, both of these operators will have completed temporary facilities. These temporary facilities are designed to get the ball moving as quickly as possible, and allow punters to begin enjoying the land-based casino experience.
Both operators have expressed their desire to have completed their permanent casino buildings by the summer of 2019 – and this fast-paced and fast-moving approach means we’ll likely see other operators wanting to ‘get their slice of the pie.’
Both operators have also stated that they will be building dedicated spaces for hosting sports betting facilities, as well as poker rooms.
When asked about the issuing of licenses, the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration stated that they the other two casino licenses will be accepting applications from May 2019. (From this, it appears as though the state is planning to limit the number of licenses issued to just four.)
Gambling and taxation experts have estimated that, once the four casinos are up and running in their permanent facilities, the state could receive as much as $86 million every single year from taxation revenue. The money raised as a result of these taxes will go to the respective countries where the casinos in question are based.
The issuing of these licenses is a welcome move – and it shows that there are changing attitudes in the state towards gambling. The two main bodies who opposed the issuing of the licenses was the state governor and the Family Council – a conservative group, known for holding significant amounts of lobbying power.
For now, however, it appears as though common sense has prevailed. Will Arkansas look towards legalizing online gambling in the future? It’s unlikely; for now, at least. Still, this is a step in the right direction, and it will be interesting to see how the new casinos go down with local residents.