Arkansas Poker & Gambling Laws

Arkansas´ population of 3 million residents makes it the thirty-second most populated state in the US, while in size it is the twenty-ninth largest state. The Land of Opportunity has the unfortunate reputation of being a poor, banjo-picking hillbilly state – a reputation enforced by it being the State with the second highest percentage of its population living below the poverty line (Mississippi hold that dubious title) [1].

The state of Arkansas was accepted into the Union in 1836, left the Union to fight with the Confederates in the American Civil War, and then re-joined the Union in 1868. The state´s constitution was re-drafted in 1874 to re-franchise Democrats who had been excluded from the re-building of Arkansas, but contained no mention of gambling – generally frowned upon in staunch bible-belt lands.

Various laws relating to gambling were subsequently introduced and repealed over the next 100 years, but the definitive Arkansas gambling laws were not established until 1987 in the Arkansas Code [2]. The code and its subsequent amendments quite clearly define what constitutes gambling in Arkansas and under what circumstances it is allowed.

Can I Play Online Poker for Real Money in Arkansas?

Legally no – although the penalties for being found guilty of playing online poker for real money are hardly a deterrent (maximum fine $25.00 [3]), and the state seems to be relaxing its views on online gambling in general judging by the 2013 decision to allow online betting on live races or simulcast races at the Oaklawn racetrack in Hot Springs and the Southland Greyhound Park in West Memphis [4].

Gambling in any form in which money or property may be won or lost is considered illegal unless it is conducted in an activity expressly approved by the state, and to knowingly permit a gambling event could result in a fine of up to $100.00 or up to a year in prison. As the laws relating to permitting any kind of gambling under any name applies to steamboats as well as land-based premises, we assume it would be interpreted to apply to providers of internet poker as well.

However, without much of a deterrent to stop the provision of Internet poker in Arkansas, there are plenty of real money poker sites willing to welcome poker players who are prepared to risk the loss of a low cash game buy-in if they are ever caught and prosecuted for playing online poker for real money in Arkansas.

Is it Legal to Play Poker in Arkansas at all?

Again, no. The wording of the Arkansas Code even forbids home games of poker (where no fee is charged or rake is deducted from the pot) and, because there are no tribal Indians in Arkansas, there are not even any out-of-the-way casinos that poker players can visit to find a legal game of poker. Consequently poker players from Arkansas who want to play in a live game of poker must cross state lines to play in either Mississippi or Oklahoma.

There are a few video draw poker games for real money and other electronic games of skill (including Blackjack) at the Oaklawn Park racetrack [5], but these are the closest there is to any form of legal poker for real money in Arkansas.

The History of Gambling Legislation in Arkansas

The limited number of gambling opportunities currently available in Arkansas contrasts markedly with what has gone on in the past. In the 1880´s the town of Hot Springs (where the Oaklawn Park racetrack is situated) became a hotbed for gambling and, by the 1920´s the town had ten casinos and bookmakers offering odds on every horse race in North America.

A corrupt local government and police force turned a blind eye to the town´s illegal gambling activities despite a Grand Jury indicting the mayor, several casino owners and promoters in 1947 (all were acquitted). Eventually the gambling Mecca was closed down in 1967 when Governor Winthrop Rockefeller and Circuit Judge Henry M. Britt. Rockefeller sent in a company of state troopers to close down the casinos and burn their gaming equipment [6].

Other than the 1987 Code of Arkansas, there has not been a lot of definitive legislation regarding gambling in Arkansas, or legal disputes challenging what laws exist. The key dates in the history of gambling legislation in Arkansas mostly refer to the activities of the Oaklawn Park racetrack and are as follow:

1905: Oaklawn Park racetrack first opened its doors for horseracing. It was to close in 1907 when a Bill entitled An Act to Prevent Betting in any Manner in the State on any Horse Race was approved by the state government in 1907 [7].

1916: The Oaklawn Park racetrack re-opens – without betting – but is closed again in 1919 when Circuit Judge Scott Wood the state governor decides that the act of racing horses is illegal.

1929: A Bill was passed in the Arkansas Senate (by one vote) to allow horse racing and pari-mutuel betting at the course, but was vetoed by Governor Harvey Parnell.

1934: The course is re-opened by Mayor Leo McLaughlin (the mayor later indicted by the 1947 Grand Jury) and in 1935 a law is passed to allow pari-mutuel betting at Oaklawn Park. This law was later voted into the Arkansas Constitution in 1956 [8].

1999: To counter the growing competition from outside source of gambling, legislation is passed by the 82nd Arkansas General Assembly to allow the installation of Instant Racing machines at Oaklawn Park [9].

2005: Electronic Games of Skill (including video draw poker) are also allowed at Oaklawn Park to generate more income for the racetrack [10].

2007: Amendment 84 to the Arkansas Constitution allows for charitable games of bingo and raffles, provided that no party gains a personal benefit by organizing them [11].

2009: The Arkansas Scholarship Lottery begins after Amendment 87 to the Arkansas Constitution is voted through – although no option exists in Arkansas to buy lottery tickets online [12].

2010: Three men are arrested by the FBI for operating an illegal gambling business belonging to mob boss George Wylie Thompson. Little Rock resident Dana Kuykendall forfeits $490,000 in gambling profits and is fined $100,000 for not declaring the income on his tax return [13].

2012: Nancy Todd(the 2008 WPT Ladies Champion) proposed a constitutional amendment to construct four land-based casinos in Arkansas. The original proposal was rejected because of its vague language, and a revised proposal was disqualified from the being included in the state ballot by the Supreme Court because the language had changed too dramatically for the original signatures supporting the proposal to count [14].

2013: Senate Bill 329 (Act 350) is passed unanimously allowing bettors to deposit money online with the Arkansas Racing Commission in order to bet by telephone or other mobile device or through other electronic means (internet!) on horse and greyhound racing [15].

Poker´s Big Winners from Arkansas

With no live casinos in Arkansas, it is no surprise that the list of “big” winners from Arkansas is relatively small. Thomas Austin Preston Jr – better known as Amarillo Slim – was born in Johnson, Arkansas in 1928, but moved to Amarillo in Texas when his parents divorced when he was an infant.

Slim´s lifetime recorded earnings of $587,568 would put him fourth on the Arkansas all-time money list – a list dominated by long-time professionals, none of whom have amassed career earnings of $1 million or more.

Until a player from Arkansas wins a major prize in a live poker tournament, the money list is dominated by Sam Barnhart – who won a couple of WSOPC Circuit events in 2011 – and Gary Gibbs – whose first recorded live poker cash was a victory in the 2004 WSOP Seniors Event! [16]

The Chances of Arkansas Online Poker being Regulated in the Future

The current situation is that it is technically illegal to play poker for real money in Arkansas – either live or online – but, if you can comfortably afford to pay the $25.00 fine if you get caught, it is your decision whether you wish to adhere to the law.

Prior to 2013, one would have confidently said that there was no prospect on online poker being regulated in the near future, and that the state of Arkansas would most likely opt out of any federal legislation that was enacted.

Now – with the unopposed Senate Bill 329 allowing online gambling on horse and greyhound racing – anything could happen in the future and we suggest readers return to this page at regular intervals to see the latest news for online poker for real money in Arkansas.


[1] Arkansas Online “Arkansas´ Hillbilly Image”
[2] Arkansas Code 1987
[3] Arkansas Code 2010 §5-66-112
[4] Arktimes – Betting Online at Oaklawn
[5] Gaming at the Oaklawn Park Racetrack
[6] Gangsters and Illegal Gambling in Hot Springs
[7] Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture
[8] Arkansas Constitutional Amendments #46
[9] 82nd General Assembly House Bill 1162
[10] Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration
[11] Arkansas Constitutional Amendments #84
[12] Arkansas Constitutional Amendments #87
[13] Three Men Plead Guilty to Operating an Illegal Gambling Business
[14] Arkansas Supreme Court verdict on the Secretary of State -v- Nancy Todd
[15] Arkansas Senate Bill 329
[16] Hendon Mob Database – Arkansas All Time Money List