Monday, January 19, 2015

Casino gambling continues to grow in Arkansas

Posted By on Mon, Jan 19, 2015 at 9:25 AM

click to enlarge GONE TO THE DOGS: Casino gambling is the tail that wags Southland Park, once strictly a greyhound race track.
  • GONE TO THE DOGS: Casino gambling is the tail that wags Southland Park, once strictly a greyhound race track.

Talk Business rounded up the 2014 totals on casino gambling at Southland Park in West Memphis and Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs.

The bottom line:

SOUTHLAND: $2.172 billion in wagers; $2.022 billion in payouts. That left $150 million from which to take taxes, overhead expenses and track profit. That's about a 93 percent payout rate.

OAKLAWN: $1.359 billion in wagers; $1.274 billion in payouts. That left $85 million for taxes, overhead and profit, also a payout rate of a bit more than 93 percent.

Of that $235 million net from casino wagering (the state still refers to it with the quaint, eupehemistic term "electronic games of skill"), the state is averaging $3 million a month in tax revenue. It realized $39.5 million in the full year that ended June 30.

Both casinos have expanded dramatically to add more slot machines to increase business in 2015.

Racing continues at both tracks, But racing is a negligible tax revenue producer compared with casino gambling — $2.9  million combined from horse and dog racing taxes in the last fiscal year, or 7 percent of casino take.

Oaklawn has bulked up thoroughbred racing purses with profits to attract better horses and has sustained a better horse racing operation than many tracks around the country.

Southland is another matter, certainly in terms of attendance. Total dog wagering in 2013, the most recent figure I can dig up on a holiday, was down to $18 million on almost 6,000 dog races, or barely more than $3,000 wagered per race. Greyhound tracks across the country are struggling and some have given up dog racing entirely for a switch to casinos.

Would Southland drop greyhound racing if it could? It's an interesting question and a development that groups that oppose dog racing on humane grounds would like to see. But there's an obstacle. Only places that offer parimutuel wagering in Arkansas are allowed to have "electronic games of skill," or casino gambling. No parimutuels, no casino. Unless, that is, a legislative workaround can be found akin to the sleight of hand that opened the door to casino gambling despite a constitutional prohibition against gambling. (Parimutuel wagering is considered a skill, too, just like poker, blackjack and Wheel of Fortune slot machines.)

It's telling that the home page of Southland Park shows almost no evidence of dog racing, focusing instead on casino photos.

Efforts to legalize casinos in Arkansas beyond the duopoly at Southland and Oaklawn have been unsuccessful. But that situation could grow more interesting as the Quapaw tribe of Oklahoma moves ahead with its study of building a casino on tribal land it recently purchased in Little Rock.

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