Oaklawn Horse Racetrack Unveils $100M Expansion Following Arkansas Casino Legalization

Posted on: November 20, 2018, 09:24h. 

Last updated on: November 20, 2018, 09:25h.

The Oaklawn horse racetrack in Hot Springs, Arkansas, is set to undergo a $100 million expansion following the state’s authorization of commercial gambling.

Oaklawn horse racetrack Arkansas casino
More than $100 million is being invested to bring a casino and hotel to the Oaklawn horse racetrack in Arkansas. (Image: Oaklawn Racing & Gaming)

Parent company Oaklawn Racing and Gaming announced Monday that the expansion will include the construction of a seven-story hotel, event center, casino, and additional parking. The project is to be completed in 2020.

This historic announcement represents a new chapter in the rich 114-year history of Oaklawn,” owner Louis Cella said in a statement. “As we enhance the entertainment experience for our customers, we will also further elevate thoroughbred racing and help make Arkansas and Hot Springs even stronger regional tourism destinations.”

Earlier this month, Arkansas voters passed Issue 4, a state constitutional amendment that authorized four commercial casinos. The ballot referendum earmarked the gaming facilities for Oaklawn and the Southland horse racetrack in West Memphis, as well as two other venues in the counties of Jefferson and Pope.

The amendment levies a 13 percent tax on gross gambling revenues up to $150 million, and 20 percent thereafter. The state receives 55 percent of the money, the host city collects 19.5 percent, host county eight percent, and 17.5 percent goes to the Arkansas Racing Commission.

Each casino license “shall not exceed $250,000,” Issue 4 declares. That’s cheap compared to other states that have recently legalized commercial gambling. In Massachusetts, for instance, an integrated casino resort permit goes for $85 million.

Gambling Fuels Investment

Driving Arkansas Forward, the committee that led the ballot question campaign, promised residents that the casinos would create new jobs and provide the state with critical tax revenue. Though the nonprofit was criticized for touting the commercial gaming venues would help repair roads when in fact the amendment said nothing about directing money to the Arkansas Highway Commission, 54.1 percent of voters backed the question.

Now authorized to operate a commercial casino, Oaklawn officials say they’ll build a 28,000-square-foot gaming floor, 200-room hotel, pool, spa, convention space, fitness center, and restaurant.

Governor Asa Hutchinson (R) said the investment is monumental.

“The state of Arkansas is grateful to Louis and his family for their commitment to growing their business right here at home,” Hutchinson declared. “This project, which will be financed exclusively with private funds, not only represents one of, if not the largest, tourism-related expansion projects in our history, it will also rank among the state’s largest economic development projects in 2019.”

Casinos Benefit Racing

Oaklawn officials say the $100 million casino expansion will benefit horse racing.

Driving Arkansas Forward projects that four casinos will generate $120 million in annual tax revenue. The Arkansas Racing Commission’s cut of 17.5 percent would equate to $21 million a year should that full market forecast come true.

Along with the authorization of the casinos, Issue 4 legalized sports betting by declaring that the gambling activity is a legal form of “casino gaming.”

The Arkansas Racing Commission is tasked with forming sports betting regulations. Only the four casinos will be permitted to take sports wagers once the governing stipulations are determined.