The short story on Arkansas gambling: Visit Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs or the Southland Greyhound Park in West Memphis for a full range of betting options from horse and dog racing to simulcast events to casino games to poker. Elsewhere in the state, forget it.
Why? Well, the long version of the story involves nearly a century of organized crime interests fleecing tourists and skimping the government of their share in illegal gambling. After a series of busts in the 1950s and 60s, Arkansas gambling was basically reset to the Puritan days the state never truly had and only recently are even the most basic games of chance legally permitted in most of Arkansas.
Gambling Age (Casinos): 21
Gambling Age (Lottery): 18
Number of Casinos: 2
• Crater of Diamonds State Park near Murfreesboro also hosts the only active diamond mine in the U.S.
• Stuttgart, Arkansas, is home to the annual World Championship Duck [-Calling] Contest.
• Bill Clinton was born in Hope, Arkansas, but the town calls itself “The Watermelon Capital of the World.”
• Within state borders, it is illegal to pronounce “Arkansas” incorrectly. No kidding.
By the letter of the law, gambling in Arkansas was made illegal. However, with the tourist industry enjoying a sustained boom beginning with expansion of the railroad network in the 1880s, opportunities for illegal gambling in Arkansas were rife for a good long while.
Arkansas’s biggest tourist draws from the 1880s to the 19th century were Eureka Springs and Hot Springs. Extending the railroad into the Ozarks brought tourists to Eureka Springs, swelling the population to 10,000-plus by 1900. An exact count of the number of gambling houses erected in the burg appearas to be unknown, but at least dozens were known to have done business there. Eureka Springs also boasted a horse racing tack, at which betting was technically illegal but most assuredly did happen.
However, the late-coming popularity of Eureka Springs was nothing compared to that of Hot Springs, one-time draw for celebs such as Al Capone, Babe Ruth and Franklin Roosevelt and today a federally protected reserve. Organized crime had a hand in (by state law, illegal) gambling in Hot Springs since 1880; various mobs did various business in the ridiculously successful gambling market of Hot Springs, A market that ran continuously from 1870 to 1967, peaking at 103 establishments offering games of chance. The Oaklawn Park horse racing track opened in 1905 thanks in no small part to organized crime interests and runs to this day.
Pari-mutuel betting was offered legally (!) at the Oaklawn in 1933, and the Southland Greyhound Park also offered this form of wagering in 1955. These ended up as essentially the only two sites for legal gambling in Arkansas after several waves of crackdowns by law enforcement in Hot Springs and other towns. By ’67, the state government announced a clean slate with regard to organized crime.
Arkansas has two land-based casinos and both are at the state’s race tracks.
The Oaklawn Jockey Club in Hot Springs puts the state’s biggest casino at the only horse racing facility in Arkansas. And in 2015, table gaming and poker – not to mention a full-on bar & grill – were added to the offerings at the racetrack. This is certainly the greatest gambler’s paradise for hundreds of miles in any direction.
Arkansas is just one of six states still hosting greyhound racing, and Southland Greyhound Park in West Memphis may just be the best track in the country; simulcast racing for those few tracks still open is alos offered here. Proper greyhound racing is augmented by the Southland Casino, which offers all the standards in casino gaming.
Like most racinos around the U.S., in Arkansas, one can be 18 years old and gamble on the horses or dogs, but must be 21 to enter the casino area.
Charles “Lucky” Luciano wasn’t born or raised in Arkansas, of course, but by his rise to national prominence in the mid-1930s, Hot Springs had become his home-away-from-home. In fact, in 1936, Hot Springs was Luciano’s last home before getting sent to Sing Sing in 1936. Legend has it that in April of that year, two New York police detectives “invited” him to return to the Big Apple with them, whereupon the gangster declined, insisting that he was “having a good time gambling” in Hot Springs. He was arrested the next day.
Thus far, only the aforementioned tracks are legally permitted to offer andy sort of gambling legally per state law. Interesting to note, however, that a 1967 law regarding the illegality of gambling has not been stricken from the books. Therefore, if convicting of illegal gambling in Arkansas, the maximum fine applicable is $25.
Since Arkansas is well behind the curve in terms of offering legal gambling (again, the state lottery was established in *2009*) and two historical, trusted locales dominating the gambling industry in the staes, little change can be expected.