'Instant Racing' Handle Now $1M a Month

It has taken almost four years, but "Instant Racing" machines have become an overnight sensation at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark.

Oaklawn general manager Eric Jackson came up with the concept of an electronic form of horse racing. But the video games, which feature recycled races, had to be pari-mutuel in nature, and the wagering had to be on horse and or Greyhound racing. Those are the only forms of gambling allowed by the Arkansas State Constitution.

The process has had its ups and downs. First, approval to operate the machines was necessary. Then, handle was low when the machines went on line. Officials at Oaklawn expected Instant Racing to catch on -- they just didn't know how long the process would take.

Oaklawn, in partnership with Amtote Corp., started with 50 machines and one game called Thoroughbred Mania. For 2001, three more games and another 100 machines are up and running. Jackson, a partner in a company called Racetech, hopes to have another ready by January, and another one in May.
With the addition of the third game in October, Oaklawn's Instant Racing pod in the grandstand handled a then-record $1.1 million.

"And we topped that in November with $1.2 million," Jackson said. "That room is going to handle about $10 million this year. We project that with the new games coming online that we can add as much to our purse fund as $150,000 to $250,000 for our live season."

Thanks in part to Instant Racing and a solid off-season simulcasting program, Oaklawn will open its 2002 live season Jan. 25 with an all-time opening-day average daily purse distribution average of $230,000.

"I know we're in the black (with Instant Racing)," Jackson said. "The horsemen are in the black and the state of Arkansas is in the black."

Arkansas, in serious need of tax dollars, has received $400,000 in taxes from Instant Racing play.

"The new game (Lucky Draw) has really caught fire," Jackson said. "Now, the patrons have more wagering options. When we started with just the one game, it would be like a racetrack operating with just a place bet, for example, or an ice cream shop offering just one flavor. Now, we're offering three."

There have been a handful of payoffs in the $8,000 to $10,000 range. But those jackpots could mushroom in the near future.

"I do believe we are getting very close to getting these machines in other racetracks," Jackson said. "Say we have a thousand machines or even five thousand some day. I could see the jackpots developing into six or seven figures. This could be better than a National Pick with the more units we have and as the network grows."