An attempt to revise a bill that originally was intended to legalize casinos in the state of Arkansas is currently awaiting certification from the state attorney general. Once the bill receives certification, Driving Arkansas Forward, the group responsible for the bill, can start gathering signatures and attempt to get it on the November ballot.
The potential constitutional amendment would allow more gambling at pre-existing greyhound and horse tracks which already offer electronic games of skill (EGS). Nate Steel, counsel for the movement, voiced his belief that the bill would succeed while the other was turned away by the attorney’s office.
“This time, it's different because of the fact that we have amended our proposal based on the attorney general's feedback and resubmitted a fair and reasonable ballot measure. This allows the voters of Arkansas to expand the gaming industry in a smart and controlled manner by establishing a pathway forward for our state for years to come.”
The proposal attempts to establish two new casinos and expand gambling at the Oaklawn horse track in Hot Springs and the Southland greyhound track in West Memphis, both of which have previously opposed casino ballot measures but are now changing their views in light of the recent developments.
The effort comes in the wake of recent reports of Oaklawn and Southland topping a whopping $5 billion in 2017 gambling revenue not including horse and dog racing bets. The Arkansas Racing Commission reported Southland betters spent $3.061 billion on EGS, while Oaklawn patrons spent $1.941 billion. These numbers strictly reflect the success of said EGS which include blackjack, slots and other casino games.
The figures represented a steady growth in the industry as in 2016 Southland and Oaklawn combined to make $4.81 billion and in 2015 took in $4.46 billion in revenue. The facilities initially expanded their casinos to include EGS in 2014 which allowed the facilities to produce a then-record joint revenue of $3.53 billion.
Given that Arkansas gains 18% of the reported revenue, expansion would be of great benefit to the state. Tax revenue from EGS contributed $60.3 million in 2016 and the year before that record $55.9 million. In the first seven months of this fiscal year alone the games have raised $36 million (a 9.7 percent increase) in taxes, which mainly go to highway maintenance and construction.
This is not lost on Delaware North, owner and operator of Southland. The global food and service hospitality company headquartered in Buffalo, New York released a statement backing the revised bill and its potential to build up Arkansas’s struggling economy through it's embrace on legal casinos.
“Southland Park Gaming & Racing is pleased the proposed ballot initiative not only protects but would expand our gaming offerings, ensuring Southland Park would continue to create good jobs, benefit the local economy and provide significant revenue to the State of Arkansas, Crittenden County and West Memphis.”
Additionally the proposal would allow for the establishment of casinos in Jefferson and Pope Counties and must garner support from local figures, display “operational experience” in a pre-existing gambling facility and show that they’ll be willing to invest $100 million into the facility.