Is Playing Online Poker in Arkansas Legal?

Arkansas is a rather average state in terms of size and population, being the 29th largest in the US and 32nd highest in population (2,949,131 est. 2013). It is best known for its diverse landscape, from the vast timberlands in the southeast to the Ozark and Ouachita Mountain ranges in the northwest. The economy is largely based on industrial and agricultural businesses, but there are also a few casinos and race betting tracks bringing in big tax dollars for the state.

Known as the Land of Opportunity, poker players will find a couple of opportunities to toss chips at local venues in the state. Playing poker on a computer, laptop or mobile device from the comfort of home is a different matter, though. Arkansas does not support any state-regulated online poker sites like those found in Delaware, New Jersey and Nevada. There are still numerous options in the way of offshore online poker sites for Arkansans, but the aim of this article is to decipher the gambling laws of the state to determine whether playing online poker is legal, illegal or somewhere in the middle.


Land-based Gambling in Arkansas

Before looking at the nomenclatures of state legislation, let’s take a look at the land-based gambling industry in Arkansas. This will generally give us an idea of how acquiescent the local government is towards games of chance/skill in general. The Natural State does offer various forms of legalized gambling, including horse and greyhound race track betting, as well as Electronic Skill Games (EGS), which include traditional casino style gambling and poker games. Not that the only legal poker rooms in Arkansas are commercially owned, not tribal. Arkansas also brings in tax dollars with its own state-run lottery and permits charitable raffles and bingo games.

Gambling was once huge business in the state, particularly in Hot Springs, dating back to the late 1800’s all the way through the 1960’s, despite laws prohibiting such activity. The infestation of gangster-run illegal gambling houses in Arkansas was so widespread that it took that long for authorities to finally shut down the more than 100 casinos that operated during that time. Needless to say, it’s taken the state quite some years to decriminalize the activity, even with the strict geographical guidelines imposed today.


Deciphering the Laws of Arkansas as they relate to Online Poker

Since the terms internet or online gambling do not appear anywhere in the statutory text or Arkansas, we’ll review the gaming laws that could pertain to online poker, along with a brief description of each one’s meaning.


Section Text Meaning (in re online poker)
Arkansas Code Title 5, Subtitle 6, Chapter 66: Gambling
§ 5-66-101
of Statutes
The judges of the several courts in this state shall, in their construction of the statutes prohibiting gaming, construe the same liberally, with a view of preventing persons from evading the penalty of the law by changing of the name or the invention of new names or devices that now are, or may hereafter be, brought into practice, in any and in all kinds of gaming, and all general terms of descriptions shall be so construed as to have effect, and include all such games and devices as are not specially named; and in all cases, when construction is necessary, it shall be in favor of the prohibition and against the offender It is not a viable defense for an online poker player to claim that real money Texas Holdem is legal because he/she played on a computer or mobile device; a device that is not specifically named in the state’s laws, or that the game played went by a name not mentioned in the laws. This section was added because the statutes specifically name various illegal forms of gambling.
§ 5-66-104. Gaming devices – Prohibition Every person who shall set up, keep, or exhibit any gaming table or gambling device, commonly called A. B. C., E. O., roulette, rouge et noir, or any faro bank, or any other gaming table or gambling device, or bank of the like or similar kind, or of any other description although not herein named, be the name or denomination what it may, adapted, devised, or designed for the purpose of playing any game of chance, or at which any money or property may be won or lost, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor and on conviction shall be fined in any sum not less than one hundred dollars ($100) and may be imprisoned any length of time not less than thirty (30) days nor more than one (1) year. This section refers to keepers of gambling houses, but defines all gambling activities considered illegal in Arkansas. The key notations is, “playing any game of chance, or at which any money or property may be won or lost”. Hence games of skill are still illegal if money/valuables are at stake.
§ 5-66-112. Card games – Betting. If any person shall be guilty of betting any money or any valuable thing on any game of brag, bluff, poker, seven-up, three-up,  twenty-one, vingt-et-un, thirteen cards, the odd trick, forty-five, whist, or at any other game at cards, known by any name now known to the law, or with any other or new name or without any name, he shall, on conviction, be fined in any sum not less than ten dollars ($10.00) nor more than twenty-five dollars ($25.00). Poker is included in the definition of card games; betting on which can result in a fine of $10-$25.
§ 5-66-113. Games of hazard or skill – Betting. (a) If any person shall be guilty of betting any money or any valuable thing on any game of hazard or skill, he shall on conviction be fined in any sum not less than ten dollars ($10.00) nor more than twenty-five dollars ($25.00). Poker is illegal, whether considered a game of hazard (chance) or skill.
Act 1151 of 2005 …Electronic Games Of Skill (EGS) at Horse Racing or Greyhound Racing Parks…
23-113-103Definitions (5)(A) “Electronic games of skill” means games played through any electronic device or machine that afford an opportunity for the exercise of skill or judgment where the outcome is not completely controlled by chance alone. Poker would fall into the definition of EGS.
23-113-201. Wagering on electronic games of skill permitted… (a)(1) In addition to pari-mutuel wagering… authorized by the Arkansas Horse Racing Law and the Arkansas Greyhound Racing Law, respectively, any franchise holder may conduct wagering on electronic games of skill in accordance with this chapter… at locations on the grounds of the franchise holder’s racetrack park site where the franchise holder is authorized by the Arkansas Racing Commission… EGS games (including poker) are only legal when conducted on the site of a state-authorized racetrack. There are no exceptions for online poker.


Is Online Poker Illegal in Arkansas?

The state of Arkansas falls into a grey area when it comes to the legalities of online poker. On the one hand, all forms of betting provided by a gambling house, located anywhere on Arkansas land or water, are illegal unless permitted by the state and provided by one of the two authorized racetrack locations. On the other hand, forms of betting offered by any establishment (online or otherwise) outside of the state are not expressly prohibited. Then again, Section 5-66-101 states “any and in all kinds of gaming, and all general terms of descriptions shall be so construed as to have effect, and include all such games and devices as are not specially named”. With that in mind, I’d lean more towards online poker being illegal in Arkansas.


Is Arkansas working to Legalize Online Poker?

No – not yet. The lawmakers of Arkansas have made no move to legalize or regulate online poker. However, the state was quick to legalize casino gambling at restricted locations when neighboring states expanded their casino industries, thereby posing a potential threat to the gambling revenue in Arkansas. Should those same neighbors adopt online poker markets, chances are Arkansas will follow suit, just as they did with land-based gaming.


Online Poker Players from Arkansas

There are a few professional poker players hailing from the Land of Opportunity, but one shines very brightly among the crowd – Amarillo “Slim” Preston. Amarillo Slim was born in Arkansas but spent most of his adolescent years growing up in Texas. He, along with his friend and fellow legendary poker player Doyle Brunson, was one of the founders of the game we know today as Texas Holdem.


Land-Based Card Rooms in Arkansas

There are only two land-based gambling destinations in Arkansas, both of which started out as race betting tracks – one horse racing, one greyhound racing – but eventually progressed to full casino gaming establishments with adequately equipped poker rooms.


Oaklawn Jockey Club
Hot Springs, AR
Poker Room: Yes

Southland Greyhound Park
West Memphis, AR
Poker Room: Yes

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