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A Different Kind of Horse Race (Editorial)

2 min read

Competition is coming for Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort in Hot Springs.

Of course, it’s always faced competitors in the form of other thoroughbred racetracks and then, later, in the form of the electronic “games of skill” also offered by Southland Park (now Southland Casino Racing) in West Memphis, as well as the myriad other ways in which people spend money to entertain themselves.

But with the opening of the Saracen Annex in Pine Bluff, to be joined later this year by the full-fledged Saracen Casino Resort, Oaklawn faces head-to-head competition in its own backyard.

Gaming industry experts told our Mark Friedman that Arkansas’ gambling market probably wasn’t yet saturated (see Will Arkansas Have Enough Gamblers?). But the Saracen Annex, which opened for business in late September, already appears to be cutting into Oaklawn’s terminal and slot machine wagers, which fell 15.7% in the fourth quarter of 2019, compared with the same period in 2018.

Saracen is a greater threat to Oaklawn for a couple of reasons. For many in central Arkansas, Pine Bluff is no farther to travel for casino fun than Hot Springs, and Saracen Casino Resort will be a brand new $350 million attraction. People will be drawn to the novelty of it.

Oaklawn, which has been racing horses since 1904 and where electronic games have been played since 2006, has long experience going for it. The Quapaw Nation, which owns Saracen, has a reputation as a savvy operator of casinos.

It should come as no surprise that we at Arkansas Business are fans of the free market system, largely because we’re realists and free enterprise harnesses a basic element of human nature — greed — in service of competition. Usually — not always, but usually — the customer benefits.

May the best casino win.

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