Alex Lieblong, 69, has served on the Arkansas Racing Commission since 2004 and was named chairman in May 2016. The commission has approved casino licenses in Hot Springs, Pine Bluff and West Memphis, but legal challenges have held up license approval in Pope County, the only other location where a casino would be legal under Amendment 100 to the state Constitution.
Lieblong is a well-known investor as owner of Lieblong & Associates in Conway. He is a successful racehorse owner, winning several Grade I stakes races and regularly finishing in the top five in owner victories at Oaklawn.
Will a casino ever make it to Pope County?
Only the legal gods know.
What impact do you think casinos will eventually have on Arkansas?
It is a game-changer for Hot Springs, in my humble opinion. Hot Springs was always thought to be a nice resort city, and this bumps it up to a new level. When the Saracen gets finished in Pine Bluff, it is going to be a totally different atmosphere there than what was prior. Before, in Arkansas, we got all the negatives of the casinos with none of the positives. When Tunica was blowing and going, people were going over there and leaving their money in Mississippi without us getting any jobs. Now at least we are going to have some jobs.
You have invested in casinos and know how to read a spreadsheet. How does that experience help you as Racing Commission chairman when you started examining casino applications and financial statements?
I’ve seen the road maps before, let’s put it that way — what to expect from the margins and whether everyone is being realistic or not. Are they pie-in-the-sky or not? The BS meter is probably the No. 1 meter you need, in all things in life. There are two different models, from the racing model and the casino models. There are two different metrics; slot machines don’t have health benefit plans.
What do you wish the public knew about the Racing Commission’s work?
It is not as simple as it looks. We have been fortunate to deal with Oaklawn and Southland in the past, who have been very honest and good state citizens. There are a lot of people who want the business, and Pope County has been somewhat of a challenge. Where we are so lucky at the Racing Commission is we have seven guys on there with very diverse backgrounds. All of them are pretty damn successful in the businesses they are in. We don’t have guys who just fell off the turnip truck, and at least half of them have racehorses.
How does owning racehorses help the commissioners?
That’s a whole different ballgame, understanding what is going on in the racing industry. You get Joe Q off the street and throw him into that position without knowing anything about racing, well, there is a learning curve. We understand the rules and regulations and the whys of certain things. I can’t imagine having the commission without guys who have experience with racehorses.
How did you get involved in horse racing and what makes it such an attraction?
I love the thing in the morning, watching them work out and develop. It’s like watching your kid develop. Let me tell you, I’m in a bunch of different businesses here and there, and it is by far the toughest game I have ever played. It is not for people with short pants.