Arkansas Casinos Overcome Winter Woes with Big Wins in March

Posted on: April 23, 2021, 03:00h. 

Last updated on: July 7, 2021, 02:32h.

Arkansas casinos came storming back in March, racking up big increases in gaming revenue compared to wintry February.

Racehorses blast out of the starting gate at Oaklawn in Hot Springs, Ark. Oaklawn and the state’s other two licensed casinos bounced back from a bleak February. (Image: BlueToad)

In March, each of Arkansas’ three licensed casinos saw win totals that either doubled February’s take or came close to doubling it, according to figures released Friday by the Arkansas Racing Commission.

The three casinos are Oaklawn Casino Racing Resort in Hot Springs, Southland Casino Racing in West Memphis, and Saracen Casino Resort in Pine Bluff. A fourth casino has been licensed for Russellville, but is tied up in a legal dispute.

Each casino won money in February, but the totals during that month were down compared to January’s numbers. 

In February, harsh weather was considered a factor in holding down the win totals. Deadly winter weather plunged temperatures in Arkansas well-below zero in some areas. Across the region, including in nearby Texas and Oklahoma, ice and snow made traveling treacherous. Saracen was forced to close temporarily during the month because of water pressure issues in the city.

March was a different story, with better weather and with COVID-19 vaccines and stimulus checks being rolled out. The three casinos had across-the-board net increases from “terminal” devices such as slot machines, table games, and sportsbooks.

Southland Tops in State

 The biggest winner in March was Southland, a resort and dog track across the Mississippi River from the larger Memphis, Tenn., metropolitan area. Dog racing is slated to end at the site next year, though the resort will remain open. That will leave West Virginia as the only state with greyhound racing.

In March, Southland’s net gaming win was $30.3 million, up from $15.6 million in February. Southland’s biggest increase came from terminal machines. In February, Southland won $14.6 million on the machines. In March, the win total topped $27.6 million.

Oaklawn also was off and running in March. The hotel-casino and horse track in Hot Springs went from an overall net win of $7.6 million in February to $13.6 million in March. Oaklawn nearly doubled its win on terminal machines, going from $6.7 million to $12.2 million.

Hot Springs is about an hour southwest of Little Rock, the capital city. 

Oaklawn this week held a grand opening for its $100 million expansion, which includes additional gaming space and an eight-story, 198-room hotel. Some rooms are open now. The remainder will be open by the end of the month. Oaklawn’s 57-day horse racing season ends this year on May 1. The casino and hotel are open all year.

Saracen Enlarging Poker Room

Saracen also took in much larger wins in March, from a total net revenue figure of $6.3 million in February to more than $14 million last month. Saracen more than doubled its win on terminal machines. The casino won $12.3 million in March, compared to $5.4 million one month earlier. 

The sportsbook at Saracen also climbed back above $1 million in wagers, putting all three Arkansas casinos over $1 million in bets again. Saracen went from a handle of $898,125 in February to $1.4 million in March. The “handle” is the amount of money wagered.

Pine Bluff is about 45 minutes south of centrally located Little Rock.

Carlton Saffa, the resort’s chief market officer, recently tweeted that Saracen has only been open for six months, but already is expanding its poker room.

“Nice problem to have,” he tweeted. “Play will continue in the meantime, and when the curtain comes down, we’ll have twice the poker space.”