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State of the Union: US Sports Betting Update – Legal Sports Wagering Commences in Arkansas

Arkansas became the ninth state to launch legal sports betting when the Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort flung open the doors to its shiny new sportsbook this week. General manager Wayne Smith placed the first wager as he laid down the princely sum of $5 on the Dallas Cowboys to cover a -7.5 point spread against the New York Giants in their season opener.

It came eight months after lawmakers in The Natural State voted 54-46 in favour of a constitutional amendment allowing sports wagering. Until May 2018, Nevada was the only state permitted to host legal sports betting due to PASPA, a federal ban.

The U.S. Supreme Court struck it down last year and Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Mississippi, Rhode Island and New Mexico all saw regulated sportsbook launches. Several states have approved sports betting this year, but it will be some time before operators actually launch. Arkansas is the ninth state in which sports fans can bet in a safe and legal environment.

Visitors to Oaklawn can now bet on a wide range of sports, from football and basketball to cricket and rugby. In-game betting is possible, while the team at Oaklawn offers various prop bets, parlays and future wagering opportunities throughout the year. “We’re excited to now be offering sports wagering,” said Smith. “It’s a new level of entertainment for our guests.” The operator has been working on a $100 million redevelopment of its property and it is also preparing for the release of an app for convenient mobile sports betting via its in-house venue powered by SBTech.

The Domino Effect

The West Memphis location of Oaklawn is interesting, as it is just across the border from Memphis, Tennessee. That means it could attract plenty of tourists from Tennessee, a state with a deep-rooted passion for sport. Tennessee responded by legalising sports betting this year in order to prevent its residents from taking their hard earned cash out of state. Senate Bill 16 narrowly passed on a vote of 19 to 1, and Gov. Bill Lee – an opponent of sports betting – allowed it to pass into law without his signature.

Up in Maine, Gov. Janet Mills has shown herself to be a lot less accommodating. The state’s lawmakers approved sports wagering legalisation bill LD53 last month after it gained bipartisan support and steamed through the legislature ahead of the end of the legislative session. It was sent to Mills’ desk to be signed into law, following Montana, Iowa, Indiana, Tennessee, Colorado, Illinois and its western neighbour, New Hampshire, which have all given the green light to sports wagering in 2019.

Maine lawmakers received huge praise for the way they decided to shape a sports betting industry in the state. It included a fair taxation scheme, realistic fiscal projections, an open market that would allow casinos, mobile operators and tribes to launch sports wagering and a distinct lack of any dreaded integrity fees or requirements to buy official league data to settle in-play bets. One commentator urged all other states to follow Maine’s lead, adding: Ultimately, barring an unforeseen veto by the governor, Maine (of all places) will have a modern and open sports betting market ready to launch by the end of 2019 – and potentially in time for the start of football season.”

Mills Opposes Gambling Expansion

However, Mills has done the unforeseen and she declined to sign the bill before Monday’s deadline. LD53 now sits in purgatory. She voiced fears regarding the expansion of gambling in the state and it will now sit on ice for several months, while some fear it will never make it into statute. She can now decide to veto it within three days of the next legislative session opening. That could either be a special session this summer, or next year’s session. In the meantime, sports betting proponent Sen. Louis Luchini has pledged to work with her in an effort to assuage her concerns.

“I’ve met with her and she expressed some concerns which resulted in her not signing the bill,” Luchini said. “I greatly respect her opinions and am happy to work with her on a resolution if possible. The fate of the sports betting bill is uncertain. At this point, we can work to amend or change the bill if needed at a special session or the next regular session.”

That essentially means it is up for negotiation, and what looked like an exemplary sports betting bill could now be diluted to such an extent that it is no longer a shining example of how sports betting in the U.S. should be. “We appreciate the diligent work and comprehensive approach of Chairmen Luchini and Schneck, and the entire legislature, in passing legislation that if enacted will protect Mainers and deliver a blow to the thriving illegal market by embracing competitive, mobile sports wagering operations with robust consumer protections,” said DraftKings in a statement. “We are hopeful that Governor Mills allows the bill to usher in an era of legal, regulated sports betting in the Pine Tree State.”

California Voters Could Approve Sports Betting

Elsewhere, a sports betting bill has cropped up in California. The Golden State is by far and away the largest economy in the U.S. and it would easily become the clear market leader if it were to legalise sports wagering, blowing New Jersey and Nevada out of the water. If it were a country, California would be the world’s fifth largest economy, nestled in between Germany and the UK. It, therefore, represents a massive opportunity for the sports betting industry, but ACA 16 is a long way from being passed into law.

The proposed legislation is the brainchild of two Democratic lawmakers in the Golden State, Sen. Bill Dodd and Assemblyman Adam Gray. They say that money brought in from taxing a regulated sports betting industry could be spent on education, infrastructure and deterring problem gambling in the state. If two-thirds of the legislature votes in favour of the measure, it will be put to a public ballot in 2020. If a majority of Californian voters approve it, sports betting will be legalised.

“It’s time to shine a light on this multibillion-dollar industry,” said Gray. “We need to crack down on illegal and unregulated online gaming and replace it with a safe and responsible option which includes safeguards against compulsive and underage gambling, money laundering and fraud. All other gaming activities in California are subject to regulations that ensure the safety of consumers. Sports wagering should be treated no differently.”

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