Arkansas Casino Wants Online Gambling Expansion to Protect Players

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A screen showing a virtual roulette table during a professional online gaming and betting convention. Valery Hache/AFP

A Pine Bluff, Arkansas casino wants to provide more betting options for its patrons, and at the same time, protect them from “bad actors.”.

Saracen Casino Resort formally requested that the Arkansas Racing Commission modify its existing rules to permit online gambling beyond the current allowances for online poker and sports betting. 

The proposed change targets unregulated operators and aims to address the issue of ‘bad actors’ who engage in illegal online gambling activities targeting Arkansas residents, including minors. Carlton Saffa, the chief market officer for Saracen, conveyed this request in a detailed five-page letter addressed to Commission Chairman Alex Lieblong on March 13.

“As a body, you have the tools and the precedent to authorize a legal, regulated, transparent, and taxable alternative to these bad actors,” wrote Saffa. “Without action, these entities will continue to grow their presence in Arkansas.”

Unregulated Casinos Would Be Targets

Saffa contends that regulating more games would help counteract unregulated casinos operating with dual currencies, which promote unregulated online gaming.

“Most importantly, amending Rule 5 [to add additional games] would provide a legitimate alternative to those already imposing their products onto Arkansas consumers, without regard for your standards of operation and without regard to your rules regarding minors placing bets,” Saffa said in the letter.

Regulated Gaming Could Also Generate Revenue 

In the letter, Saffa asserted that the introduction of online gaming could contribute over $20 million to state revenue. This includes an estimated $12 million in additional state gaming tax revenue, nearly $4 million allocated for purse support to the Oaklawn Jockey Club, and an additional $5.6 million earmarked for Pine Bluff and Jefferson County.

“[Unregulated operators] are a serious issue, and we want to address it,” Saffa said. “We look forward to visiting the commission about a problem, which is unlicensed, unregulated, and untaxed real-money gaming occurring in Arkansas today. You need a legitimate alternative because there is consumer demand for this.”

The Process to Open a New Arkansas Casino Begins

While Saffa is eager to see Saracen’s online casino offerings launched promptly, he acknowledges that the Arkansas Racing Commission has other priorities at hand. Despite the presence of three existing casinos, there remains an available fourth license within the state.

The Commission recently announced a 30-day application period for the state’s final casino license, focusing on Pope County. Applications, both digital and paper, must be submitted by June 11. A statewide notice will be published announcing May 13 as the first day for application submissions at the commission office.

This represents the commission’s third attempt in five years to allocate a permit in Pope County, following voter approval for four state casinos. The courts voided previous license allocations to Gulfside Casino Partnership and Cherokee Nation Business/Legends Resort & Casino.

When Will Online Casinos Be Considered?

Saffa hopes that once the process to add the state’s fourth casino is complete, online casino will take center stage.

The letter’s conclusion emphasized that online gaming could facilitate the identification and assistance of individuals with gambling issues. It also mentions that studies indicate it (online gaming) does not adversely affect foot traffic to traditional casinos. 

Saffa expressed his intention to continue working with the Racing Commission and the Department of Finance and Administration to get something done.