Avoiding radar 

I was in the crush when the House Rules Committee endorsed a gambling expansion at Oaklawn and Southland race tracks. One of the opponents pleaded for more study time. The bill had surfaced less than a week before and, with Monday’s committee approval, it was maybe 24 hours from becoming law. Limited study was the point, of course. There’s no secret to the late appearance of high-stakes legislation. Sometimes, it simply takes the lobbyists and sponsors a while to trade enough favors, pour enough liquor and do enough jawboning to produce the required votes. Sometimes, the ball of final-days confusion is useful cover. The gambling bill needed more study, though it’s not devoid of merit. The racing industry — particularly dog racing — is declining. Many tracks have added slot machines or video poker to fatten owners’ wallets and, incidentally, increase purses for “live” racing. Oaklawn and Southland are already gambling centers, so what are a few more cash intake slots? Gambling is so confusing in Arkansas that the sponsor of this bill couldn’t explain why we needed a bill to legalize more of what the tracks already have. Lotteries — games involving pure chance — are prohibited. But statutes permit pari-mutuel wagering at Oaklawn and Southland. Both tracks now have Instant Racing machines, nominally parimutuel betting on previously run races. You’ll forgive players for confusing them with slot machines. You put money in, punch a button and if the right numbers come up, money comes out. The new legislation, should local voters approve, will produce a couple thousand new machines with coin slots at Oaklawn and Southland. They’ll probably offer video poker. Poker is called a game of skill because a little knowledge is required. You wouldn’t want to discard a flush to draw to a straight, for example. A casino official from Mississippi told me that the games — which his company operates elsewhere — are set to pay off 85 to 90 percent of the time. The only skill necessary is this: If you don’t know how poker is played, you can make the odds worse by making stupid decisions. The casino official — who is fighting additional competition in Arkansas, naturally — makes worthwhile points. He says neighboring states generally take a higher tax than this bill proposes. He also notes that the right to operate a new gambling parlor has sold elsewhere for hundreds of millions of dollars. Oaklawn and Southland are going to get that monopoly right for the cost of their lobbying. Questions remain. Once the expanded gambling franchises are in place, it appears live racing could cease and the facilities could continue as slot parlors. Southland could be sold to a casino company for a vast sum. And what if the new machines introduce wagering on other forms of sports, such as NASCAR, as sponsors have mentioned? Would that be sports wagering, prohibited in Arkansas by federal law? And if electronic blackjack and poker are allowed, why not table blackjack and poker? The only difference between machine card games and table card games is that skill really can make a difference at the table. A lawsuit will be necessary to clear legal issues, plus Racing Commission meetings, local option elections, etc. Given the racing industry’s progress in the last week, I’d say slots should be jangling at Oaklawn long before a single school building is repaired with money from this year’s legislature.

Sign up for the Daily Update email


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

  • We have met the enemy: The open line

    The open line with a dose of Trump and other unhappy news.
    • Jul 15, 2018
  • Welcome to the United States, children

    Recommended reading: The New York Times' report on the conditions for the hundreds of children being held in detention since they arrived at U.S. borders seeking asylum. There are many rules and they included no touching of other children, not even a hug for a little brother or sister.
    • Jul 15, 2018
  • Bills arrive for petition campaigns, including term limits

    Filings are expected next week on the campaigns to put a minimum wage increase and casino gambling expansion on the November ballot. One other campaign reported financial information last week
    • Jul 15, 2018
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Double-talk

    A couple of instances of doublespeak cropped up in Little Rock over the weekend.
    • Jun 29, 2017
  • Along the civil rights trail

    A convergence of events in recent days signaled again how far we have come and how far we have yet to go in civil rights.
    • Jan 18, 2018
  • The Oval outhouse

    One thing all Americans finally can agree upon is that public discourse has coarsened irretrievably in the era of Donald Trump and largely at his instance.
    • Jan 18, 2018

Latest in Max Brantley

  • Let's vote

    The potential for exciting November elections grew last week with filing of petitions for three ballot initiatives to add to two already cleared by the legislature.
    • Jul 12, 2018
  • Corrupt Arkansas

    Arkansas jail blotters last week added a couple more names of so-called public servants.

    • Jul 5, 2018
  • Who's coming for dinner?

    Thousands of children, stripped from their families at the border, remain hostage to a U.S. government using them to coerce illegal-entry guilty pleas from their parents. The U.S. wants to make criminals of many seeking legal asylum.
    • Jun 28, 2018
  • More »

Most Viewed

  • Don't arm teachers

    It's been roughly five months since 14 high school students and three staff members were shot and killed in their school in Parkland, Fla.

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Let's vote

    • And while we're at it lets get a vouchers for private schools initiative on the…

    • on July 14, 2018
  • Re: Punishing the poor

    • Then maybe the congress will give up on the unsustainable socialized medical insurance fiasco that…

    • on July 14, 2018

© 2018 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation