Arkansas mobile sports betting may need to launch under emergency rules to get online by March Madness.
Emergency rules, if proposed and approved, would take effect immediately and stay in effect for 120 days. Permanent rules, however, would be needed for mobile sports betting to stay live after the 120 days expire.
The idea of emergency rulemaking appeared as a possible alternative after permanent mobile sports betting rules proposed by the Arkansas Racing Commission (ARC) were pulled by the agency from the agenda of today’s meeting of the Arkansas Legislative Council (ALC) Administrative Rules Subcommittee. The agency pulled the agenda item after making a technical change to the rules Tuesday.
Because the Rules subcommittee won’t meet again until after a one-month fiscal session of the Arkansas State Legislature ends in March, permanent rules could be delayed for a month or more, an ALC staff attorney told Gaming Today this morning.
That makes it unlikely that Arkansans will be able to bet from home on this year’s Super Bowl.
Emergency rules for mobile sports betting could, however, be approved by the ALC during the upcoming session, which begins on Feb. 14 – making mobile and online bets during March Madness a possibility.
What Is The State Racing Commission’s Position On Emergency Rules For Mobile Sports Betting?
Approval of emergency rules would expedite a mobile sports betting launch. Emergency rules can take effect immediately once they are filed with the Secretary of State, according to Arkansas state law.
But the state racing commission isn’t saying if it will choose the emergency route, based on the email to Gaming Today from ARC spokesperson Scott Hardin.
Hardin did not mention emergency rules in the email, instead saying, “whether the rules receive legislative review in February or March, the additional time will allow all questions and concerns to be addressed prior to legislators formally reviewing it.”
Legislative review of proposed emergency rules in February would have to come from the ALC Executive Subcommittee. The subcommittee is authorized to handle emergency rulemaking while the state legislature is in session, according to an ALC staff attorney’s comments to Gaming Today. The state legislature’s Joint Budget Committee (JBC) also has rulemaking authority during session.
Hardin didn’t mention action by either of those committees in his email.
He did say no mobile sports betting rules are expected to be approved in Arkansas before the 2022 Super Bowl – a sure disappointment to Arkansans hoping to put down a mobile bet in their home state.
“We do not anticipate the rules will be considered for final approval prior to the Super Bowl,” Hardin told Gaming Today. “It is yet to be determined if they will be considered in February or March.”
Why Did The ARC Pull The Rules?
Hardin told Gaming Today the ARC pulled its proposed mobile sports betting rules from the agendas of both today’s Rules subcommittee and the Jan. 28 meeting of the ALC “to allow adequate time to respond to several questions raised by legislators this week” regarding a technical change to the rules.
That change replaced the wording “net gaming revenue” in the rules with the words “net casino gaming receipts” to comply with 2018 gaming provisions in the state constitution, Hardin said.
“Although that was a small technical change (that) did not affect the overall plan for mobile sports betting, it raised a few questions,” he told Gaming Today.
How Would Emergency Rulemaking in Arkansas Work?
Emergency rulemaking in coming weeks would likely depend on the ALC Executive Subcommittee – one of two legislative committees authorized to act on proposed agency rules when lawmakers are in session.
The other committee is the JBC, which has broad authority during legislative sessions to act on proposed rules and regulations.
Whether the Executive Subcommittee or JBC will take up proposed rules for mobile sports betting, however, is another matter, said the ALC staff attorney.
“There’s a lot of ‘ifs’ – if the chairs agreed for it to be on the agenda (for one),” the attorney said. “They may not want to hear something as controversial as these rules are going to be.”
What Can Arkansans Expect Under The Proposed Rules, As They Now Stand?
Arkansas mobile sports betting would be tied to casinos under the current proposed rules.
Casinos with retail sports betting would be allowed up to two mobile sports betting apps (referred to as “skins”, per industry parlance) under the proposed rules, giving all three licensed casinos now operating in Arkansas the chance to operate online sports pools, with state regulatory approval.
A fourth, newly-licensed casino yet to be built in northwest Arkansas could also enter the mobile sports betting fray. The timeline for construction of that casino is still uncertain.
Sportsbooks contracted to operate mobile and online sports betting for a casino would be prohibited from receiving more than 50 percent of the mobile and online net gaming revenue under the rules as proposed.
Retail sports betting at three Arkansas casinos has been live since 2019.