Oaklawn Opens Hotel-Casino Expansion, Still Seeking Employees

Posted on: April 21, 2021, 03:22h. 

Last updated on: April 22, 2021, 11:00h.

Oaklawn Casino Racing Resort held an official opening on Wednesday for its $100 million expansion in Hot Springs, Arkansas, even with job slots still in need of applicants.

Oaklawn Casino Racing Resort
The hotel-casino expansion project at Oaklawn in Hot Springs, Arkansas, is seen in this artist’s depiction. The expansion opened April 21. (Image: KARK-TV)

Oaklawn General Manager Wayne Smith told KATV-TV that only about half of the 400 available jobs had been filled by this week. Without more employees, all the stations at the food court can’t open, he said.

Weve got three stations in that foot court,” Smith told the Little Rock television station. “We cant open two of them because we dont have enough staff. Ever since the stimulus package money came out in February, we are just not getting folks to come in.”

Smith said he expects the jobs to be filled soon.

I think once they see and get a sense of what Oaklawn has done, I think more and more people will recognize they want to come here,” he said.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) and Oaklawn Jockey Club President Louis Cella were among those who participated in the grand opening Wednesday in a live event shown on Oaklawn’s Facebook page. The historic racetrack in Hot Springs embarked on the extensive construction project two years ago. Oaklawn has expanded its gaming area and built an eight-story, 198-room hotel. Some rooms overlook the racetrack. 

The resort also added a 15,000-square-foot events center and spa. The events center can hold 1,500 people. The spa includes a needle shower, Himalayan salt wall, and infrared sauna.

Smith expressed excitement at Oaklawn’s expansion.

You know, we just changed the landscape of Arkansas,” he told KATV-TV.

Open for Business

The general manager told the television station that half the hotel rooms are ready to be booked. The remainder should be ready by the end of April, he said. Depending on the day of the week, room rates are $155 to $320, according to Oaklawn’s website.

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

Casino gambling occurred illegally but openly in Hot Springs for decades, until authorities shut it down in the 1960s. During this era, the nation’s most notorious gangsters vacationed in Hot Springs. These included Al Capone, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, and Carlos Marcello.

Oaklawn now is the only place in Hot Springs with legal casino gambling. Two other licensed casinos are operating in Arkansas. They are 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. 

Arkansas Derby Upset

The racetrack at Oaklawn dates back more than a century. The annual Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn is considered an important prelude to the Triple Crown races. One of the most celebrated Arkansas Derby winners, American Pharoah, won the Triple Crown in 2015.

This year’s Arkansas Derby was held earlier this month and resulted in an upset. The heavily favored horse, Concert Tour, finished third behind winner Super Stock and second-place finisher Caddo River. 

Bleacher Report writer Joseph Zucker said Concert Tour’s performance raised questions about whether the horse would still be considered “a serious threat” at the Kentucky Derby on May 1. 

Since then, Churchill Downs officials announced that the Bob Baffert-trained Concert Tour will not complete in the Kentucky Derby. Racetrack spokesman Darren Rogers told the media he recently received a text from Baffert, saying, “Concert out. Wait for Preakness.

At Oaklawn, this year’s 57-day racing season ends May 1.