Electronic Gaming Boosts Economy in West Memphis, Hot Springs

by Mark Hengel  on Monday, Mar. 16, 2009 12:00 am  

Introducing electronic gaming has enabled Oaklawn Park of Hot Springs to compete with casinos in surrounding states, General Manager Eric Jackson said.

(To see a comparison of revenue generated by electronic gaming at both Oaklawn and Southland, click here.)

Electronic gaming likely kept Arkansas' two racetracks alive, the tracks' managers say.

More than that, it has brought more tourist dollars to West Memphis and Hot Springs, according to economic development officials in those cities.

In the 1990s, both Oaklawn Park, the horse racetrack in Hot Springs, and Southland Greyhound Park in West Memphis worried they might succumb to competition from newly opened casinos in Tunica, Miss. Gamblers were enjoying electronic gaming – like slot machines – and shunning horse and greyhound racing.

The protracted decline of each could have hurt the economies of their home cities, economic development officials said. Both racetracks, however, have since moved into electronic gaming.

In 2000, Oaklawn started offering instant racing, which is effectively the same as betting on traditional horse races but uses historic results with horses under different names to allow bettors to wager. The track could install instant racing because it falls under the same guidelines as pari-mutuel wagering, which includes simulcasting. Simulcasting allows Oaklawn visitors to bet on live racing at other horse racing facilities.

In 2005, the state Legislature passed a proposal sponsored by Sen. Bob Johnson, D-Bigelow, allowing each track to expand offerings of electronic games if local voters approved – and they did.

Southland launched a $40 million expansion of its electronic gaming floor in 2006, and Oaklawn will unveil a $30 million expansion of its electronic gaming area in May.

Southland reported revenue of almost $35 million from electronic games for January; Oaklawn reported revenue of $18 million for the same month, according to the Arkansas Department of Finance & Administration's racing commission.

Betting on the Future
The 2006 addition of electronic gaming at Southland – owned by Delaware North Cos. of Buffalo, N.Y., and renamed Southland Park Gaming & Racing –  has allowed the track to gain back market share once thought lost, said Troy Keeping, the track's president and general manager. The expansion of gaming has had a major impact, Keeping said. The track supported the legislative measure "to keep Southland a viable business in West Memphis," Keeping said.

"In fact, I think it positions us better in the sense that we have greyhound racing and gaming," Keeping said.

Visitors from surrounding areas – especially Memphis – can visit the venue and choose to play blackjack, poker, eat at the buffet, enjoy live entertainment or bet on any of the live races with which Southland has a simulcasting contract, Keeping said.

The track employs almost 500 people, Keeping said. The annual payroll, including benefits, reaches almost $15 million, he said.

 

 

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