PINE BLUFF, Ark. — When the pandemic hit, live sports shut down just like the rest of the world.
"March 2020 was extremely disappointing," Neal Atkinson, Director of the Sportsbook at Saracen Casino in Pine Bluff, said.
"When the NBA and March Madness wound down when the pandemic started, it was a huge disappointment for all of us."
For businesses that rely on live sports for their business, that makes the past year hard.
"It was a worldwide event, sporting events basically came down to a complete close because of the pandemic," Atkinson said.
"Most places bets went down by over 90%. People were trying to find things like Korean baseball and ping pong to bet on during that time, just to keep them in action."
But this year is a much different story. All major sports are back in action, and bets are back to being placed.
In August alone, Saracen saw over half a million dollars placed in sports bets alone. Oaklawn saw over a million.
But there's another, more local reason why the books have been big at Arkansas' casinos.
"Arkansas basketball, Arkansas baseball," Atkinson said. "Now with Arkansas in the football season, it has exponentially increased our handle in the sportsbook this football season alone."
Oaklawn is also seeing an increase in bets placed, saying in part, "There is definitely a lot of interest in football, NFL and college. Also, the Razorbacks are really adding to the excitement each week with how well they are playing. We are seeing increased business compared to this time last year."
Numbers for bets at Saracen are night and day when compared to last year.
"We are now threefold ahead of where we were this time last year," Atkinson said. "I attribute, probably most of that to the success of the Arkansas Razorbacks this year."
When the state's team is doing good, you've got to make sure people stay engaged. As the Razorbacks get back to winning, Atkinson says that's helping them get back to normal too.
"One of the reasons we increased our limits is because of people wanting to bet on the hogs," he said. "It's gonna be a big help for us, because anytime there's interest in your local sports team, they're gonna bet them more."