The Arkansas Casino Scene

Arkansas Flag and Oaklawn Casino

Arkansas isn’t exactly what you’d call a gambling Mecca. In fact, until recently, you could find no casinos to speak of in the state.

But Arkansas does have a couple of “racinos” which offer Class II slot machines – I’ll include an explanation of what the differences are between Class II and Class III slot machines in this post.

I’ll also include details about where you can gamble (and what you can gamble on) in the state of Arkansas in this post, too.

An Overview of the Arkansas Gambling Scene

As with most states, Arkansas requires you to be at least 21 years old for most kinds of gambling. Bingo, the lottery, and parimutuel wagers are exceptions – you only need to be 18 to gamble on these activities.

Arkansas gambling has strict laws related to most traditional casino activities. The only kinds of traditional casino games available in the state are “skill-based” slot machines, also known as Class II slots. That’s relatively recent, too – until 2005, you couldn’t play anything resembling a casino game in the state.

You are allowed to own your own slot machines in the state, but you’re not allowed to offer gambling on it. In other words, it’s okay to be a slot machine collector in Arkansas.

You’ll find two casinos in operation in Arkansas with a 3rd casino on the way. The two casinos that are open are:

  • Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort
  • Southland Park Gaming & Racing

Southland is the larger of the two racinos.

River Valley Casino, when it opens, will take over as the largest casino in Arkansas.

Many people in Arkansas travel to nearby states for more gambling variety – depending on their location in Arkansas, they might visit Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, Oklahoma, or Tennessee.

What Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort Has to Offer the Arkansas Gambler

It’s important to remember that Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort is primarily a racetrack and racebook. The casino offerings are in addition to parimutuel betting on the horses here. They do offer a full resort and hotel, too, though.

Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort can be found in Hot Spring National Park, and it’s been in operation since 1904, making it one of the oldest gambling establishments in the entire country.

You’ve heard of the Arkansas Derby?

This is where it’s held annually.

Horse Racing at Oaklawn Racing Casino

Oaklawn claims to be the #1 tourist attraction in the state, but gambling businesses are known for hyperbole. The casino offers blackjack, craps, and slot machine games.

Depending on when you’re there, you can also find live music.

The casino has over 1500 slot machines starting at a penny a spin. They also offer video poker games, and they have 32 table games on the casino floor.

The table games available at Oaklawn include real money blackjack, craps, Three Card Poker, and Ultimate Texas Hold’em.

You can also bet on sports at the sports book kiosks in Oaklawn, and you can redeem your winning tickets at the cashier cage in the casino.

New gamblers get reimbursed $100 on their first losses at the casino, too.

What Southland Park Gaming & Racing Has to Offer the Arkansas Gambler

Southland Park Gaming & Racing is open 24/7 and is the largest gambling business in Arkansas. Their 80,000 square foot casino have over 2000 slot machines to play. They also offer traditional casino table games, including blackjack, craps, and roulette.

They also offer newer casino table games like Mississippi Stud and Ultimate Texas Hold’em.

Southland Park Gaming & Racing is also widely considered on the best places to bet on greyhound races in the country. They have live races five days a week.

Southland Park Gaming & Racing opened in the 1950s as a family-owned business, but it was sold to Delaware North Companies, Inc. in the 1970s.

Southland Park Gaming and Racing

From the 1960s to the 1980s, Southland Park Gaming & Racing regularly saw audiences of 20,000 for their greyhound races. This generated over $200 million in annual action, and the casino had over 600 employees.

Things slowed down when Mississippi legalized riverboat gambling in the 1990s, but Arkansas has since loosened up their laws on casino gambling to make Southland more competitive.

The renovations in 2006 and 2007 modernized the facility adding a huge event center and a respectably-sized night club. Since then, Southland has donated over $18 million to charities in Arkansas.

What’s up With the Class II “Skill-Based” Slot Machine Designation in Arkansas?

In most states, slot machines are completely random – if they’re present at all.

But in some states – especially those with tribal casinos – another designation exists:

The Class II slot machine.

And, in Arkansas, the laws require an addition wrinkle – slot machine and any other gambling game must include an element of skill.

Legally, this means the games must give you a chance to use skill or judgment to affect the outcome of the game.

With games like video blackjack and video poker, the skill elements are obvious. In video blackjack, you exercise your judgment when deciding whether to hit or stand. In video poker, you exercise your judgment when deciding which cards to keep and which cards to replace.

Arkansas Class II Slot Machines

On their slot machine games in Arkansas, you get two spins per play. After the first one, you get to decide which symbols you want to keep on each reel before making your 2nd spin.

Arkansas also mandates that these games have a minimum payback percentage of 83%.

Casinos in Arkansas do report payback percentages, and they’re roughly the same at both casinos in the state. Oaklawn reported a payback percentage of 92.81%, and Southland reported 92.72%.

Keep this in mind, though – just because the overall payback percentage for the casino saw those numbers doesn’t imply that this is the payback percentage on every machine in the casino. Some games have a lower payback percentage, while others have a higher payback percentage.

The machines offer no external clues as to what their payback percentage is, though. The usually slot machine advice applies, though:

  • Look for games with a recognizable IP (intellectual property) associated with them.
  • Look for games with a “flat top” jackpot rather than games with a “progressive jackpot.”
  • Look for games with few bells and whistles.
  • Look for the highest-denomination games you can comfortably afford.

Other than those quirks, casino gambling at Arkansas’s two existing casinos isn’t much different than casino gambling anywhere else in the country.

What About the River Valley Casino Resort in Russellville, Arkansas?

At the time of this writing, the biggest casino in the state is yet to open – it’s the River Valley Casino Resort in Russellville. They’ve invested over $250 million to create over 1500 jobs in the area. They expect to see over 2 million visitors a year and generate more than $29 million in tax revenue each year.

River Valley Casino Resort

The casino will offer a 300-seat buffet and a fine dining steakhouse. They’ll also have a 24-hour café and a coffee shop on the premises. They’ll also have over 80,000 square feet of gaming space with almost 2000 slot machines and 90+ table games.

The hotel will have over 500 rooms – 75 of which are suites. They’ll also offer live sports betting and a sports bar where you can watch sporting events.

The casino is expected to open sometime towards the end of 2020.

How Does Parimutuel Betting Work in Arkansas?

You’ve seen me mention “parimutuel betting” in this post to refer to bets on the dog and horse racing in the racinos in Arkanas. You probably even noticed that the legal age requirements for parimutuel betting are different from the other gambling.

But what exactly does “parimutuel” mean?

It’s an expression that comes from the French language expression for “mutual betting.” It’s a gambling setup where all the bets go into one big prize pool. The house takes its cuts, and then the payoffs are handled by dividing the remaining prize pool among the winning bets.

Parimutuel betting is the traditional way payouts are determined throughout the United States in dog and horse races. Many lottery games can also be considered parimutuel games.

You can contrast parimutuel betting with what’s called “fixed odds” betting. In a betting setup with fixed odds, you know what the payouts are for the various bets ahead of time. In a parimutuel setup, you don’t know what the payouts are until you know how big the prize pool has gotten.

Conclusion

Arkansas doesn’t offer much to casino gamblers. Only having two casinos in the state, both of which focus largely on racebetting, doesn’t do much to set the state apart from other states which offer far more options.

But the Arkansas gambling businesses that are in operation are bigger and better than many of the locals casinos you’ll find in other states which offer more options.

If you like to bet on sports, Arkansas is a good state for that, too.

And the slot machine games have respectable payback percentages throughout the state.