Special Election Set on Electronic Gaming at Oaklawn Park

The Hot Springs, Arkansas board of directors Tuesday night unanimously approved Oaklawn Park's request to hold a Nov. 8 special election that will give city residents the opportunity to decide if they want additional games of electronic skill at the track.

"Very pleased," Oaklawn Park general manager Eric Jackson said following the 7-0 vote. "Off to a good start."

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.

"We really don't see this is an expansion of wagering," Jackson said. "We had wagering yesterday and we're going to have wagering tomorrow. We do see this as an expansion of benefits. The benefits are to preserve jobs and to enhance racing at Oaklawn, create jobs and generate new tax revenue for Hot Springs and to benefit our seniors and our students."

An economic impact statement prepared by The Innovation Group of Boston and Economic Research Associates of Chicago concluded the passage of Act 1151 would create 250 to 400 new jobs at Oaklawn, provide an additional 1.4 million visitors, generate $77 million to $81 million in additional visitor spending yearly and $2.1 million to $2.5 million in additional city tax yearly.

Oaklawn owner Charles Cella has agreed to set up an independent foundation designated to provide funding for college scholarships for local students and special health care for local senior citizens.

The economic impact studies also said Act 1151 would generate an additional $7.7 million for purses, eventually boosting Oaklawn's daily level to $400,000, potentially among the highest in the country.

Act 1151 provides 14% of net wagering revenue to be set aside for purses.

"If the studies are accurate, we can see Oaklawn take it to new levels," Jackson said.

Some 200 community and civic leaders and the Hot Springs Advertising and Promotion Commission have endorsed Act 1151, Jackson said.