The Arkansas Legislature's Joint Budget Committee on Tuesday gave final approval for mobile sports betting in the state, clearing the way for wagers to begin in time for the NCAA's March Madness basketball tournament.
The committee voted without debate to accept rules approved Thursday by the administrative rules subcommittee. Betting can begin 10 days after the rules are filed with the Arkansas secretary of state's office.
Casinos had hoped mobile wagers would be approved in time for the Super Bowl, but the launch was delayed after national sportsbooks including DraftKings and FanDuel raised objections to a profit-sharing rule that gives Arkansas casinos 51% of net revenue.
The sportsbooks, which typically receive 85%-95% of the revenue, questioned the legality of the rule under the federal Commerce Clause. But lawmakers on Thursday advanced the rule after the state attorney general's office said it could defend it.
Sports betting became legal in Arkansas as part of an amendment to expand casino gaming that voters passed in 2018. The first sports wager was placed in 2019.
It has accounted for a relatively small percentage of casino wagering in Arkansas. In the first 11 months of 2021, the three Arkansas casinos reported $6.16 billion in bets from terminal and slot machines, but only $60 million in sportsbook bets, according to the Arkansas Racing Commission.
Still, the national market for sports betting is growing. The American Gaming Association reported more than $57 billion wagered legally on games last year, an increase of 165% from 2020. Seven states launched new commercial sports betting markets last year.
Saracen Casino Resort of Pine Bluff told Arkansas Business that it spent “in the six figures” to develop its mobile betting app. Carlton Saffa, Saracen’s chief market officer, said the investment is coupled with a "seven-figure marketing campaign."
Saffa projected that mobile betting will double or triple sports wagers at Saracen, which handled $12.5 million in bets in the first 11 months of 2021.