Arkansas Poker

Generally speaking, states located in America’s Deep South are unlikely candidates for Internet gambling regulation, and Arkansas is no exception. The state nicknamed the Land of Opportunity is exactly the opposite for casino operators, who have yet to establish a presence in the state. Compounding matters further, State Sen. Blanche Lincoln is a staunch supporter of casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and his campaign to ban online gaming – otherwise known as the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling. [1]

That being said, Arkansas has become more progressive in its views, especially with regards to gambling. These days, two of the state’s pari-mutuel facilities are ripe with electronic wagering machines and table games that allow patrons to bet on blackjack, racing outcomes and yes, even poker. Furthermore, a 2014 piece of legislation (SB 329) authorized the placement of wagers on horses via the Internet, including smartphone and other devices. [2]

Arkansas is living proof that just because a state is Red, doesn’t necessarily mean that gaming expansion is a dead issue. And while there is little chance state legislatures will throw their support behind a sponsored b&m casino or iGaming bill in the immediate future, that slither of hope is enough for us to rank Arkansas just above the top 10 states least likely to regulate online gambling.

Can Players from Arkansas Play Real-Money Online Poker?

Although online poker is not regulated in Arkansas, that doesn’t prevent US-facing sites from offering their services to its patrons. In fact, Arkansas residents have nearly as many online poker playing options at their disposal as players from states where online poker is sanctioned, like New Jersey.

However, most US-facing rooms feature miniscule player pools compared to those in Europe, where big names such as PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and 888 Poker offer their renowned brands of real-money online poker freely and legally to residents in most countries.

Is Online Poker Legal in Arkansas?

Arkansas’ gambling statutes are exceedingly vague and antiquated. There is no mention of Internet gambling. Nor is the legality of poker addressed. Although, it should be mentioned that in 2009, a clause was added that authorizes electronic games of skill, in so long as the individual participating is present at one of the two horse tracks licensed to host such games. Poker is included on the short list of “skill” games.

There is no clear definition of gambling. Instead, the law renders the act of wagering on prohibited games a crime:
It is unlawful for any person to bet any money or other valuable thing or any representative of any thing that is esteemed of value on any game prohibited by 5-66-104. Section 5-66-106

So what are these prohibited games? For the answer, we turn to the section Gaming devices – Prohibition, Section 5-66-104:

(a) It is unlawful for a person to set up, keep, or exhibit any gaming table or gambling device, commonly called “A. B. C.,” “E.O.”, roulette or rogue et noir, any faro bank, or any other gaming table or gambling device, or bank of the like of similar kind, or of any description although not named in this section, regardless of the name of denomination, either: (1) Adapted, devised, or designed for the purpose of playing any game of chance; or (2) At which any money or property may be won or lost.

The hope offered by the explicit use of the word chance is immediately offset by the clause that renders it illegal to win or lose money over a game.

There doesn’t appear to be a social gambling clause exempting operations that do not charge a rake or fixed entry fee.

The penalties for running an underground operation typically include a small fine (<$100) and carry a jail term of 30 days to one year. Players caught participating in such games can be hit with a $50 – $100 fine – a minor slap on the wrist, all things considered.

Based on this information, it is reasonable to assume that playing or operating an online poker scheme in Arkansas is a minor crime. However, it is worth noting that Arkansas apparently deems electronic poker a game of skill, which does open some possible doors for the future.

For those interested in learning more about Arkansas’ gambling laws, we encourage you to review the state code. [3]

Arkansas Gambling History

There was a time when Arkansas was as bustling a gambling state as Nevada. And no, that’s not a typo. In the post-Civil Wars days, the city of Hot Springs became a mecca of gambling activity, and at one point boasted approximately a dozen casino houses and horse racing facilities. By the mid-20th century, the presence of the mob compelled the governor to crack down on gambling, resulting in the closure of all casinos. The burning of casino equipment served as a metaphor for Arkansas’ stance against gambling activity.

For the next several decades, the only gambling option available to Arkansas residents was in the form of pari-mutuel wagering.  The state’s two major racing venues, Oaklawn Park [4], constructed in 1904, and Southland Greyhound Park (1956) remain staples of Arkansas’ gambling culture to this very day.

It wouldn’t be until 2008 that the state authorized a second variation of legal gambling in the form of charitable bingo and raffles. The next year, the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery Act authorized the formation of a multi-jurisdiction lottery. Today, the lottery offers popular games such as Powerball and Mega Millions, and generates hundreds of millions in annual revenue.

Also in the late-2000s, Oaklawn and Southland were expanded to include games such as electronic BlackJack and Video Poker. Since, Southland has added other electronic games of skill, including poker, and those of pure chance like Roulette and Craps. And it appears that both racinos are manipulating the language of the 2005 electronic skill game legislation to convert their race tracks into full-fledged commercial casinos. [5]

Online horse betting was added via SB 329 in early-2014.

Regulated Gambling Options in Arkansas

Compared to a decade ago, Arkansas’ regulated gambling options are far more diversified. In addition to the lottery and limited forms of charitable gambling, the state’s horse and greyhound racing venues now support a wide array of electronic table games and slot machines.

To our knowledge, Southland Greyhound Park [6] and Oaklawn Park are the only facilities in Arkansas that boast pseudo-live poker rooms.

The Future of Regulated Online Gambling in Arkansas

Oaklawn Park and Southland Greyhound Park are pushing Arkansas’ gambling allowances as far as possible without blatantly disregarding the law. This combined with the state’s apparent acceptance of online horse betting leads us to believe that Arkansas may one day take up the iGaming debate. Should that happen, expect representatives from Oaklawn and Southland to be largely in favor of further expansion into the digital realm.

However, at present there are too many influential figures, State Sen. Blanche Lincoln included, opposed to gambling expansion. To illustrate, in late-2012 poker player and political adviser Nancy Todd pushed for an amendment that would see the construction of four land-based casinos in Arkansas. Although Todd collected a sufficient amount of signatures, her proposal was rejected by both state officials and the AR Supreme Court.

The reality is that Arkansas is not ready for live commercial and online gambling, and an argument can be made that it never will be. Even if it were, the state’s low population of just fewer than 3 million will render it impossible for online poker to thrive without the assistance of interstate compacts with neighboring states such as Louisiana and Mississippi.

To conclude, there’s a twinkle of hope that Arkansas will regulate online poker by 2020, but don’t bet on it – you might be arrested.


  1. Jump up ^ Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling
  2. Jump up ^ Cook: GOP-Controlled State Legislature Authorized Internet Gambling
  3. Jump up ^ Arkansas Code – Free Public Access
  4. Jump up ^ Oakland Racing and Gaming
  5. Jump up ^ Family Council gets one right: They’re gambling at Oaklawn and Southland
  6. Jump up ^ Southland Park Poker