Expansion of Gaming Closer for Oaklawn Park

Expansion of gambling at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., moved one step closer to reality after the Arkansas State Racing Commission approved rules and regulations for electronic games of skill at its Aug. 1 meeting in Little Rock.

Oaklawn general manager Eric Jackson said he hopes the track can have 50 to 100 terminals for games of skill by the end of the year.

The types of games have yet be determined, but Jackson has Oaklawn has "just started" conversations with manufacturers of gaming products.

The racing commission will ultimately decide if electronic games like video poker qualify as one of skill. Games of chance are illegal in Arkansas.

In November, Hot Springs residents narrowly approved a ballot measure pursuant to Act 1151 of 2005, which would allow Oaklawn to bring additional electronic games of skill to the track.

"Quite frankly, until we had some sort of definitive green light, manufactures weren't that inclined to spend any time with us," Jackson said. "This (approval of rules and regulations) was really a critical step. So now I think in the eyes of manufactures, we're for real."

Oaklawn has approximately 350 terminals for Instant Racing, an electronic pari-mutuel game that allows fans to wager on previously run races. Jackson said the additional terminals for games of skill would be integrated with those designated for Instant Racing.

Construction of a new building to house more games of skill would begin shortly after the 2007 live meeting ends in April, Jackson said.

Oaklawn officials said they believe revenue generated from the additional electronic games of skill could boost purses to around $400,000 per day.

"If we can get some terminals operational by the end of the year, we can start getting the experience that we need with this product that will serve us well when we do build something," Jackson said.

Despite another legal challenge, Oaklawn has continued to move forward with efforts to offer additional electronic games of skill.

In early May, special Judge John Lineberger of Rogers, Ark., dismissed a complaint by three Garland County residents challenging the constitutionality of Act 1151.

They are now asking the Arkansas Supreme Court to overturn Lineberger's ruling.

Oaklawn attorney Skip Ebel said the Arkansas Supreme Court likely won't hear the appeal until the end of the year.

Voters in November also approved additional electronic games of skill at Southland Greyhound Park in West Memphis, Ark.