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 Arkansas Casinos, Poker & Gambling 

Arkansas Pari-mutuel, Casinos & Gambling

Over the course of the years, any attempt to legalize gambling, lottery and casinos in the state of Arkansas has been met with disapproval by its constituents. Even while big cities around it have adopted gambling as a means to raise city revenues and promote tourism, Arkansas, a state of conservative Christians, continues to be one of the few remaining southern states to resist legalizing both casinos and lotteries.

The Arkansas constitution recognizes casinos, lotteries, bingos and other games of chance as illegal. Arkansas’ moral conservatives have time and again voted against state lottery. They have also prohibited charitable gaming such as bingos and raffles. Yet while technically illegal, many counties in this state do sponsor these kinds of activities and are even condone by various church organizations.

Arkansas Pari-mutuel Betting

For more than fifty years, pari-mutuel betting was as the only legal gambling activity in the state of Arkansas. Pari-mutuel betting is regulated by the state where gambling is considered illegal. Pari-mutuel betting is often rendered during special sporting events or tournaments like horse-racing or Arkansas greyhound racing.

Under pari-mutuel betting, those who place bets need not be physically present to observe the tournaments Also, unlike other types of casino gambling, those who have placed their bets in these facilities are playing against other gamblers and not on the gambling house. Bets are placed at off-track facilities and are pooled together. Payoffs are made from this pool and divided among the wagers.

Arkansas has two race tracks which host regular tournaments, Oakland Park in Hot Springs and Southland Greyhound Park in West Memphis. Arkansas’ horse-racing and greyhound-racing play big roles in tourism promotion and publicity. However, revenues for these events have not brought in enough to the economic development of the state. Tourists have also preferred the lures of casinos, over racing, in neighboring big cities.

Arkansas's Instant Racing Machines

While Arkansas conservatives have repeatedly refused to legalize slot machines in this state, business men like racetrack owners have found an alternative in video gambling machines. To bring in more people to racing, these machines have found their way into the racetracks and are gaining popularity. While technically sounding and playing like slot machines, they are in fact not one. Called “Instant Racing Machines”, they are pari-mutuel betting machines, where wagers are based on videos replays of horse races or jockey records.

Arkansas's Expanded Gaming Proposal

Although in recent events, politicians have moved to endorse Senate Bill 999, an expanded video-gaming proposal which hopes to provide more revenues for the state in terms of economic, tourism and agribusiness development. This bill would supposedly permit for the operation of video gambling machines (also known as video poker or an “electronic games of skill”) to be placed in Oakland Park and Southland Greyhound Park. Unlike the current Instant Racing machines now in place in these racetracks, these video slots will offer anything from video poker to electronic Jeopardy.

The bill, however, is subject to a majority vote which conservatives of the state of Arkansas, have stopped.

Lawmakers and supporters of this bill argue that this expanded gaming proposal would help boost economy and tourism in many ways. It would allow for the funding to provide more hotels and lodging that would bring in more tourists. It would provide revenue for the state and allow racetracks to compete with the casinos of other big cities. This bill would also provide a better alternative to raising state revenues, rather than imposing a tax hike.

Big cities which have adopted expanded gaming policies are reeking in from tourist and locals alike. Arkansas locals themselves are spending their dollars in neighboring casinos rather than in their own racetracks or pari-mutuel instant racing machines, thereby keeping money off their state and reducing the chances for gaining funds needed for economic development.

Yet in spite of this bill’s promise of monetary gains which would also help fund various medical and educational programs in the state, the proposal was shot down by many of Arkansas’ Christian conservatives.

Those against the bill stipulate that this new expanded video-poker proposal would open doors to the proliferation of casino-type gambling machines in Arkansas. They argue that video poker, often referred to as “the crack of cocaine”, is one of the most addictive forms of gambling. In fact, actual statistics from big cities with legalized gambling, such as the state of Las Vegas, were alarming. The accessibility and convenience these video poker machines have is creating addicts out of its people, more especially the locals of the area that leaders of that state have proposed to remove all video poker machines instead.

Ironically, Arkansas allows for the purchase of slot machines but it is for private ownership and amusement purposes only.

What Lies Ahead for Arkansas Gamblers?

While proponents of gambling take any chance to lobby the amendments to change the current state constitution on legalized gambling, many believe this effort may have to go through tough resistance to change.

Many election campaigns, from local politicians to the national level including that of then president Bill Clinton (who is from Arkansas), have proposed varied ways and means to legalize lottery and casinos in this state. Yet these proposals were all shot down or have met the same fate of indifference from the constituents of Arkansas.

For all its intents and purpose, opposition to any amendment far outnumbers those who propose it. Those who oppose it actually come from strong religious backgrounds who view gambling as vice.

Arkansas still remains traditional in their attempt to embrace progress in the 21st century. Popular culture not withstanding, Arkansas carry a strong history of opposition to legalized gambling dating back as far as the early 60’s.

Even while Arkansas is in dire need of finding new resources of revenue, those who oppose any amendment to legalize casino, lottery and gambling in Arkansas are determined that their fiscal woes and its solution will not be coming from gambling.

How much longer can Arkansas defy this is anybody’s guest. Legalized gambling may be even inevitable in the coming years. But for now, Arkansas has effectively succeeded in their opposition.


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