If you are not too familiar with Arkansas, you would probably guess that there is not much available in the way of gambling here. If you thought this then you are correct, as it only offers two somewhat small casinos. Currently, Arkansas only permits casinos to be opened in the presence of racetracks. This means that for the foreseeable future, there will likely not be any other gambling options. Though Arkansas is home to several large Native American tribes, none of them own casinos within the state. The casinos here are mainly located at horse/greyhound racing tracks, and are “racino” hybrids, which until very recently were unable to offer table games.
These casinos now offer up slots and electronic games in addition to live table games and racetracks. There are a total of just two casinos which are located in Hot Springs and West Memphis. The lack of casino options is due to strict rules and regulations which have been present since the mid-1960’s. It does not appear that they will be changing anytime soon either. Read on to learn more about the two casinos that are located in Arkansas as well as the types of casinos and history of gambling here.
As we briefly went over earlier in the article, there is just one type of casino in Arkansas. You will not find any large casino resorts. The only options available in the state were for some time “slots only” casinos and racing tracks. In recent years, however, the casinos have expanded to also offer table games like blackjack and a few poker variations (three card poker, let it ride etc). These types of gambling locations offer virtual lottery terminals in addition to table games with live dealers. If you are accustomed to the large casino resorts associated with places like Las Vegas, Reno or Atlantic City, you will be disappointed with the gambling options within Arkansas.
If you are a greyhound or horse racing fan, you will however be pleased with the casinos in Arkansas because both locations were originally opened as raceways. Compared to other tracks, like those on the East Coast of the United States, Arkansas’ tracks were opened pretty recently in the mid-20th century. This pales in comparison to those located in states like New York which opened their first tracks in the 19th century.
Unlike the popular resort casinos that popped up all over the country in the late 20th century to early 21st century, Arkansas casinos do not have any hotel rooms or resort style amenities. They’re more of a weekend getaway for locals, a roadside stop for passers by or a once-a-year destination for horse racing enthusiasts. The casinos here do offer some slot machine varieties and video poker machines, and that was about it until very recently.
The state requires that games could only be offered here which involved electronics and some form of skill. Recently, the casinos decided that by watching the outcome via the “eye in the sky” they would qualify as an “electronic game of skill.” This led them to quickly expand their gaming options to include many table games like blackjack. The proposal met much resistance, but inevitably was passed just a few years ago. Since table games started being added to the casinos in Arkansas, they have also added poker rooms.
Though today Arkansas is lacking in its offering of casinos and legal gambling options, that was once far from the case. At one point in time, Arkansas was somewhat of a gambling paradise. Between the years of 1927 and 1947, there was over 10 casinos located across the state (mostly illegal), mainly in Hot Springs. At the time, a man named Owney Madden led the way with his large Hotel Arkansas Casino in Hot Springs. This, and a few other casinos in the area, were frequently visited by characters like Al Capone and were a favorite retreat.
In 1937, one of the state’s biggest opposing forces of illegal gambling, a former sheriff, was murdered. This just goes to shed light on the politics and corruption present during this period of time. It wasn’t until 1946 when a World War II vet returned home and turned things around. His name was Sid McMath, and he was largely responsible for restoring law and order to these illegal gambling operations.
Gambling would slowly decline in the state over the following years, until in 1967 it was flat-out banned. It wasn’t until roughly 40 years later when Oaklawn was eventually permitted to offer electronic games. Now there are just two casinos, which offer limited gaming selections. It seems that Arkansas has some pretty solid views on gambling, which it does not appear will be changing any time in the immediate future.
Unlike many other locations in the United States, the gambling age in Arkansas is 18 years old. This includes horse betting, pari-mutuel gambling, and the lottery. You must be 21 to consume alcohol at the casinos here, and alcohol is not always comped (this will obviously depend on the specific casino you are visiting).