In Arkansas, commercial operators are required to share 51% of their revenue with partner casinos. That number, while not a tax, is a massive chunk of an operator’s profit. Some major operators are active in the handful of states that require a 50% or higher tax, but in most cases, that is either in exchange for a monopoly, in partnership with a state lottery, or in New York — though stakeholders there are already pushing for a reduction.
In Arkansas, the goal was to keep as much wagering money as possible within state lines. In part because of the revenue share, major operators stayed out of a market that serves about 3 million people. And so was born the only digital state with locally branded platforms as the only option.
Arkansas voters legalized retail and digital wagering in November 2018, and the first bets were taken July 1, 2019, at Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort. Digital betting went live nearly three years later in March 2022.
Homegrown and loving it
Executives at BetSaracen, which captures an average of more than 60% of the market every month, have embraced a down-home approach. They say they took skepticism that they could run their own platform as a challenge.
“We were initially told, ‘You can’t do this. You’re going to need a bigger company'” to run wagering, Neal Atkinson, senior director of table games, sports book, & poker operations for Saracen Casino Resort, told Sports Handle.
About 15 months after BetSarecen launched, Eilers & Krejcik ranks it No. 15 by handle in the nation, ahead of smaller multi-state brands like betPARX, Resorts World, and Tipico.
In Arkansas, lawmakers allowed for up to four mobile betting sites, each tied to local casinos or racinos. So far, BetSaracen, Betly (Southland Casino Resort), and SBTech (Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort) are live. A new resort casino, Legends in Russellville, will also have access when it opens. Betly, the first to launch, has captured about 27% of market share since all three platforms have been live, while Oaklawn, the last to launch, is capturing about 10%.
BetSaracen executives decided early on to leverage local ties and build a platform that’s Arkansas-centric and easy to use.
“If you build a good storefront with good stuff and it’s easy to pay, then that’s where they will go,” BetSaracen Chief Market Officer Carlton Saffa told Sports Handle. “You build a good thing and the customers will come. And if you take care of them, they will stay. But if you build a sort of good thing and you try to bribe them to stay, then when you take away the bribe they go away.”
To that end, BetSaracen doesn’t offer promotions to draw customers in. You won’t find offers for matched bets or account credits. What you will find is a platform that focuses on what Southerners want — college football and more college football — with a laundry list of funding options and a customer service line on which an actual human being is available in less than 30 seconds.
Unlike in many other jurisdictions, it is legal in Arkansas to offer individual player props on college athletes. At BetSaracen, customers will find plenty of options, but company policy is that every college prop is “positive,” meaning bettors can only wager on a player “surpassing” a goal.
BetSaracen is partnered with Arkansas’ biggest sports betting media personality, Randy Rainwater. The sportsbook features “Double R” specials that Rainwater creates and are then vetted by the trading team. Every parlay, prop, or special on the platform is homegrown, meaning that the BetSaracen trading team creates it as opposed to the book offering something created by a vendor.
“Instead of cookie-cutter content, we wanted it to be Arkansas specific,” Atkinson said. “The number one thing about the BetSaracen platform is to put localized, relevant content out for our player base.”
Being nimble is key
The platform is built on Amelco source code, which Atkinson said is nimble and has allowed BetSaracen to pick which services it wants, adding or subtracting as needs change. The company regularly offers specials to existing customers, particularly around Arkansas college events, and takes great pride in its extensive list of payment and withdrawal options, which Saffa said has been critical to the platform’s success.
The company embraces the mindset of fellow Arkansan Sam Walton: “It’s a sin to wait in line to let people give you their money.”
“Payments are first, because it doesn’t matter how great your store is — you can have Macy’s in its heyday in New York City, but if the cash registers don’t work, customers will leave,” Saffa said. “It’s the same on the app: If it can’t give you your money, you’re going to leave and leave angry.”
Chris Altruda contributed to this report.