Sunday was the first time patrons of Arkansas casinos have been allowed to wager on the outcome of the Super Bowl. Bets placed on the NFL championship game exceeded $705,000, according to data released Tuesday by the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration.
Sports wagering was included as part of an amendment approved by voters in 2018. Three casinos are now in operation in the state, while a legal challenge is pending over the fourth casino, which will be built in Pope County.
Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort in Hot Springs and Saracen Casino Resort in Pine Bluff began allowing patrons to bet on sports games last year after getting approval from the state Racing Commission. Southland Casino Racing in West Memphis got approval last week, just in time for the big game.
Scott Hardin, a spokesman for the Department of Finance and Administration, says officials were "a bit surprised" at the amount wagered.
"This is still a market that is in its infancy for sports gambling, and I think that Arkansans are still learning that it’s even available," he said. "They know we have three casinos in the state, but they’re still learning that it is an option to go bet on a football game or a basketball game."
Since July 2019, Hardin says about $11.5 million has been wagered on sports at Arkansas casinos, "so the Super Bowl constituted a large portion of that."
State rules currently require that all sports bets be placed on-site, but casinos could eventually request permission from the Racing Commission to allow off-site wagering, similar to how Oaklawn lets patrons place bets electronically on horse races through an app. So far the commission has not been approached about starting that, Hardin says, but he expects that would allow sports gambling to grow “significantly.”
One aspect of the amendment approved by voters sets aside money for the creation of an Arkansas gambling addiction hotline. Hardin says the state is working to establish that, while ads for the state’s casinos include the telephone number of a national hotline.
The state does not have data about how much was wagered on each team, with the Kansas City Chiefs beating the San Francisco 49ers 31-20.