Legal Gambling in Arkansas

An Overview of Gambling Laws in the State Of Arkansas

When you look at the history of Arkansas in relation to gambling, it really makes you think about what could have been. Everything was in place for the complexes at Hot Springs to rival Las Vegas or Atlantic City as world class US gambling hub. Instead this State went in the opposite direction, banning virtually all forms of gambling for residents. There are two casino complexes nowadays, and a few bingo halls. This page gives you a detailed overview of the current gambling laws in the State of Arkansas.

You’ll find a fast-paced walk through the colorful history of gambling in Arkansas first below. Much of this involves Hot Springs and the Mob. After that there is a game-by-game overview of what kinds of gambling are permitted in this state – followed by a timeline and details of the legislation which affects gamblers today. At the end of this page you will find a summary and a look towards the future.

Arkansas Gambling Laws – A Brief History

Hot Springs, a federally protected reserve in Arkansas has a gambling history which ran from just after the Civil war right through to modern times. There are reports of gangsters fighting for control of the liquor and gambling in this town as far back as 1880. In the early 1900’s baseball training camps and tourism had seen this town expand – and the Oakland racetrack was a regular attraction.

By the late 1920’s Hot Springs had become a gambling hub, with 10 major and many minor casinos it was even bigger than Las Vegas at this time. This continued right through to 1947, when a grand jury indicted several of the major casino owners. This was the start of a lot of legal and regulatory issues for Hot Springs, who were caught up in the changing political mood of the post-war years.

Finally, gambling in Hot Springs was shut down in 1967, it would be almost 40 years before any forms of gambling would become legal again. While the conservative members of the political divide will be pleased to see gambling ended in this way -progressive and neutral observers will look at the billions in tax revenues generated by Las Vegas and Atlantic City and think about what could have been for Hot Springs had the political mood been different.

More recently, skill games have been given an exemption – as have charity gambling games including Bingo and raffles. There is now a legal State lottery too.

While gambling is completely illegal under the Arkansas State codes, the penalties look the same as they were in the 1960’s. If convicted you face a ‘heavy’ fine of between $10 and $25 for most gambling offenses.

Arkansas Gambling Laws – What Forms of Gambling Are Currently Legal

Casino Games: No, there are a few ‘games of skill’ which are quasi-casino games at both the Oaklawn Park racetrack and Southlands Racetrack loosely based on Blackjack and Video Poker. Hot Springs, where Oaklawn is situated had the potential to be as big as Las Vegas at one point in its history. Today AK residents need to cross into Mississippi to find real casino table games and slots.

Online Casino Gambling: No, Online gambling is not explicitly banned under the Statutes – though considered illegal under current general guidelines.

Live Poker: Yes, though limited to the Southlands racetrack, they have just 6 tables that cover cash games and tournaments. Poker home games are not allowed in Arkansas, though the State code does indicate that the maximum fine for gambling is only $25.

Online Poker: No, there is no regulation or moves towards this at the moment. Like most states the AR code does not explicitly ban online poker, though it is assumed that their blanket ban on games of chance for money does encompass this.

Sports Betting: Yes, only legal at the tracks, where bets are Pari-Mutuel and based on greyhound and horse racing only.

Lottery: Yes, Arkansas run a ‘scholarship lottery’ which includes several different draws as well as scratch-card type games. The profit from this lottery is used to offer college scholarship to talented students who might not otherwise have been able to afford them.

Bingo Games: Yes, there are bingo halls in this State, these are regulated under the ‘Charitable Gambling’ legislation which covers both bingo and raffles for non-profit organizations.

Arkansas Gambling Laws – Timeline of Key Statutes

Here are the key laws which govern gambling in AR. For this State they center on the 1967 law. The main statutes covering gambling make a clear distinction between individuals gambling and those running gambling houses or organizing the events (or owning gambling machines). The core offense involves betting, which includes both ‘hazard or skill’:

If a person bets any money or any valuable thing on any game of hazard or skill, 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). (From: 5-66-113)

There is no explicit reference in the Arkansas law to gambling online. This is common as the laws pre-date the internet. It is assumed that the current laws cover this, though there has been no legal test of this assumption to date. With the track-record of banning almost all forms of gambling, the status-quo is presumably preferable to a test case which is likely to yield negative results.

Note that unlike in the legislation of other states, there is no distinction between games where the house makes a profit and social games. This is one of the few States where home poker games are against the law.

Timeline of gambling legislation:

1967: Current laws enacted, Hot Springs gambling finally closed down, though the heyday was already passed for this town by this point.

2005: The ‘Games of Skill’ legislation enabled expanded gaming opportunities at the major racetracks - that now have 100’s of machines each. Act 1151 of 2005 put into place a regulation framework which covered electronic games based on skill – which has lead the racetracks to come up with innovative live dealer + electronic screen hybrids.

2007: There were carve-outs for charitable gambling games in the ‘Charitable Bingo and Raffles Enabling Act (2007 number 338). There a strict licensing rules in Arkansas for these games, as well as strict definitions - here is their definition of bingo:

“"Game of bingo" includes only a game in which the winner receives a preannounced, fixed-dollar prize and in which the winner is determined by the matching of letters and numbers on a bingo face imprinted with at least twenty-four (24) numbers, with letters and numbers appearing on objects randomly drawn and announced by a caller, in contemporaneous competition among all players in the game;”

2009: Lottery begins, after becoming legal one year earlier, this is known as the ‘scholarship’ lottery and the funds go to subsidize education.

Arkansas Gambling Laws – Summary and Look into the Future

The ‘what could have been’ story with Hot Springs makes fascinating reading, with colorful mob characters that belonged to that era. Nowadays, this state are progressively allowing more gambling for their citizens. Charity and Skill gaming make a good starting point, with the increased tax revenues from these games likely to be filtering through to State budgets soon – there may be an appetite for further relaxing of the rules.

Based on their history of legislating gambling, I can’t see Arkansas regulating gambling online any time soon. In the meantime, the liberal gambling laws of neighboring Mississippi will continue to be a big draw.

Useful Resources:

General Overview from State Site

Charitable Gaming Laws

Oaklawn Site

Games of Skill Legislation

Hot Springs History

Searchable Code of AR Legislation

Legislation at US-Gambling Law