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.

Oaklawn also saw the shift, but by attracting better talent with bigger purses, the losses have been staunched, Jackson said.

"If you were betting in the late 1990s, you'd have bet against us," Jackson said.

A Comeback

Momentum began to change with the new millennium. Oaklawn turned the corner in 2000 and 2001 with the implementation of instant racing, Jackson said. AmTote International Inc. of Hunt Valley, Md., helped Oaklawn develop the instant racing games, Jackson said.

The increased revenue has bolstered Oaklawn's horse racing business. A contract with the organization for horse owners of America dictates that a percentage of any revenues produced at Oaklawn go to purses, Jackson said. To date, electronic gaming has contributed more than $17.6 million to Oaklawn's purses – a fact the track proudly displays on an electronic sign that greets visitors.

"The purses started going up, and the horses started coming back," he said.

By 2004, the track's management and owners said Oaklawn would not only survive, but would thrive, Jackson said. The track might even return to its heyday of the 1970s and 1980s, Jackson said.

The track has about 350 instant racing machines and 125 electronic "games of skill," Jackson said. With the May 2009 opening, the track will have the capacity for about 1,000 machines, Jackson said. The track will mainly add electronic games in the expansion, though the additions will occur gradually, he said.

"Our 3-year-old races have become the most important triple-crown prep races in the nation," David Longinotti, Oaklawn's assistant general manager, said.

Since 2004, horses that raced at Oaklawn have placed third or better 16 times in triple-crown races.



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