Arkansas Racinos Enjoy Record Fiscal Year, Future Bright as Venues Now Full-Scale Commercial Casinos

Posted on: September 17, 2019, 11:19h. 

Last updated on: September 17, 2019, 12:13h.

Arkansas racinos took $5.2 billion in bets during their 2019 fiscal year, an all-time high that has the industry optimistic moving ahead as the properties transition to full-scale commercial casinos.

Arkansas casino Southland Oaklawn
Now equipped with slot machines, table games, sportsbook, and soon much more by way of a massive expansion, Southland Casino in Arkansas is betting large on becoming a premiere casino resort destination in the South. (Image: Yolanda James/The Commercial Appeal)

Players at Southland Casino Racing in West Memphis and Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort in Hot Springs inserted $5.2 billion into the electronic gaming machines between July 1, 2018, through June 30, 2019. The gaming terminals feature “an opportunity for the exercise of skill or judgement where the outcome is not completely controlled by chance alone.”

Southland took $3.2 billion in bets and paid out $3 billion in prizes, while Oaklawn received $2 billion in wagers and paid out $1.89 billion in winnings. The state’s take, according to data from the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration, totaled roughly $69 million.

Gross gaming revenue on the devices is taxed at 18 percent. The 2019 fiscal year was a record 12-month performance for both Oaklawn and Southland in terms of money wagered, total payout, net revenue, and state tax.

Only Getting Started

Arkansas’ gaming industry is positioned to see considerable gross gaming revenue (GGR) growth in the years ahead. The Razorback State became the 29th state in the US to legalize commercial casinos when voters passed a constitutional referendum (Issue 4) during the November 2018 election.

The two properties announced major renovations after the ballot referendum passed. Oaklawn is investing $100 million to expand its resort, and Southland is amid a $250 million overhaul that will feature a 20-story hotel tower. Southland and Oaklawn commenced full-scale commercial casino operations in April.

Southland swapped most of its electronic gaming terminals for 2,000 traditional slot machines, and added 40 live dealer table games. Oaklawn is keeping its 1,300 skill devices for now, but has incorporated eight table games to its floor. Sports betting is additionally up and running at Oaklawn, but not yet Southland.

Not everyone, however, is thrilled about the expanded gaming.

They [casinos] pull a lot of money out of the communities and they pull a lot of money out of the region and so that’s the inherent problem with casinos,” gaming opponent Jerry Cox told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Cox heads the Family Council, an Arkansas nonprofit that led the opposition campaign to Issue 4.

One More Coming

Issue 4 – the ballot referendum that allowed the two racinos to morph into commercial casinos – additionally allocated one casino each for Pope and Jefferson counties. But the law required local support from each county judge.

The Arkansas Racing Commission signed off on a $350 million casino project in Pine Bluff in June. The development, which will be known as the Saracen Casino Resort, comes from the Quapaw Nation’s Downstream Development Authority.

Jefferson County opted to partner with the Quapaw Indians, a Native American group based in Oklahoma. The tribe is essentially building a clone of its Oklahoma Downstream Casino Resort in Arkansas.

While things are moving forward at Southland, Oaklawn, and Saracen, the Pope County casino odds remain long at best.

Voters in Pope opposed the motion to legalize commercial gambling, and therefore concurrently passed a resolution in November 2018 that bars its county judge from writing a letter of support for a casino project unless six out of 10 local voters lent approval. Issue 4 received only 40 percent support from Pope voters.