Oaklawn's Eric Jackson Sees Hot Springs Tourism Staying on Track

Eric Jackson has worked in an administrative capacity at Oaklawn since 1978. In the 1980s, he helped develop the park’s interstate full-card simulcasting with merged pool wagering system. Simulcasting of this type now accounts for 80 percent of wagering placed on horse racing in North America. He became Oaklawn's general manager in 1987 and has served on Oaklawn’s board of directors since 1994.

Jackson holds a bachelor’s degree in business and economics from Hendrix College in Conway.

What’s in the future for horse racing?

Horse racing in Arkansas is in a very good place right now. By working closely with racing commissioners, state leaders, horsemen and Hot Springs leaders, the industry is healthy and strong in Arkansas. We have some of the highest purses in America, roughly double what they were only 10 years ago. The quality of racing is excellent. And we attract large crowds of enthusiastic, supportive racing fans.

What does Oaklawn look for in a racehorse?

David Longinotti, our director of racing, first looks for quality and then to make sure it fits the sort of races he is scheduling. That approach is working, because every year many of the top thoroughbreds come to Arkansas from all over America to race at Oaklawn. That’s what our program is all about and, really, has been for 110 years now.

Do you think Hot Springs needs more gambling — as it used to have — to grow?

What Hot Springs once had was illegal and corrupt, simple as that. And that outlaw era ultimately set back the community for years and even decades. What Hot Springs has today is a very balanced tourism product. A national park, racing, gaming, Magic Springs, the Mid-America Science Museum, a terrific convention center and arena, beautiful lakes and mountains, a great historic district and so much more. You won’t find many places in America with so many assets both God-given and man-made. It’s why Hot Springs is Arkansas’ No. 1 tourism destination. We are also fortunate to have top-drawer administrative leadership in our city hall, ad commission and chamber of commerce.

What are some growth areas for Oaklawn in particular?

We’ve come a long way in the last 10 years. But it is imperative we continue to grow our racing program. And the best way to do that is to develop as an overall year-round racing and gaming and entertainment center, all in partnership with Hot Springs and the Arkansas Parks & Tourism Department. That’s also the best way to make sure we continue to be a major economic generator, employer and tax producer.

What do you think needs to happen regarding the redevelopment of downtown Hot Springs to avoid more situations like the Majestic Hotel fire? Will Oaklawn be helping with this issue?

Columnist, blogger and citizen philosopher Rex Nelson hit the nail right on the head recently. Downtown Hot Springs is a unique asset, not just for Hot Springs but for all of Arkansas. If we can combine proper life-safety enhancements with property owners willing to improve and develop their properties, the area will blossom. A healthy downtown is important to Hot Springs tourism and thus to Oaklawn. That’s why Oaklawn has been supportive of such things as helping to bring the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences & the Arts to the city, working with the original Main Street program and lobbying for additional funding for the national park, an expanded civic center, Summit Arena and more. Today we also have the Oaklawn Foundation governed by a board of community leaders that is helping the community in so many different ways.