It's a Photo: Voters Narrowly Approve Electronic Games at Oaklawn

In a photo finish Tuesday, voters narrowly approved Oaklawn Park's request to bring additional electronic games of skill to the Hot Springs, Ark., track.

According to results Tuesday night, Hot Springs voters passed Act 1151 of 2005 by an 89-vote margin, 4,745-to-4,656.

"It was a team effort," Oaklawn general manager Eric Jackson said. "I guess it seems only appropriate that we've had so many photo finishes here at the racetrack, and so many winners by a nose that this would be called by a nose as well. "It's kind of appropriate that that would happen at a racetrack."

Act 1151 of 2005, which was passed earlier this year by the state legislature, authorized Oaklawn and Southland Greyhound Park in West Memphis, Ark., to seek special elections to allow additional electronic games of skill at their tracks.

Since early 2000, Oaklawn and Southland have offered Instant Racing, an electronic pari-mutuel game that allows fans to bet on recycled races.

Jackson said the additional games of electronic skill will allow Oaklawn to remain competitive with other racetracks around the country that subsidize purses with alternate forms of gambling.

Two economic studies commissioned by the state indicated Act 1151 would generate an additional $7.7 million for purses, eventually boosting Oaklawn's daily level to $400,000, among the highest in the country.

Average daily purse distribution for Oaklawn's 2005 live season that ended April 16 was approximately $263,000, an all-time record, Jackson said.

"We believe in the studies," Jackson said. "The studies say that as this business comes in, assuming we can operate it competently, our purses should go up significantly.

"If we can get our purses up to the next level, I think it's a good omen for the future of racing in Arkansas and at Oaklawn."

According to provisions of the legislation, 14% of net wagering revenue will go toward purses. Jackson said he isn't sure how or when the additional games of skill will arrive at Oaklawn. The Arkansas State Racing Commission has yet to define "electronic games of skill."

Oaklawn's 56-day live meeting begins Jan. 20, 2006.