Horse Racing Season Starts Early at Oaklawn for First Time

Horse Racing Season Starts Early at Oaklawn for First Time
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Horse bettors will begin gambling in Arkansas a little early this year. For the first time, the historic Oaklawn horse track in Hot Springs, is opening its thoroughbred racing season in December.

The 66-day season at Oaklawn Casino Resort begins this Friday and extends for five months, through May 8, 2022. The season traditionally begins in January.

Hot Springs is about an hour southwest of centrally located Little Rock, the state capital.

Every year during the spring, the track hosts the Arkansas Derby, considered an important prelude to the Triple Crown races.

In 2015, Arkansas Derby winner American Pharoah became the first horse in 37 years to win the Triple Crown, galloping to victory in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes.

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Oaklawn An Elite Race Track

The track at Oaklawn, about two miles south of downtown Hot Springs, opened in 1904. It is now considered an elite site for horse racing. The one-mile oval track consists of a sandy loam cushion topped by clay and natural soil.

“It is universally considered one of the best tracks in the country,” according to the TwinSpires website.

Former Hotbed for Gangsters

In addition to Oaklawn, Arkansas has three Las Vegas-style casinos. The others are Saracen Casino Resort in Pine Bluff and Southland Casino Racing in West Memphis.

For decades, gambling occurred illegally but openly in Hot Springs, known as Spa City. In the 1960s, authorities ordered the illegal casinos to be shut down.

Until then, the nation’s most notorious mobsters, including Al Capone, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, Frank Costello and Meyer Lansky, vacationed in Hot Springs.

In the 1930s, gangster Charles “Lucky” Luciano, wanted for suspected prostitution racketeering in New York, was taken into custody by New York authorities who were in Hot Springs on an unrelated case and happened to spot him strolling down the street with a friendly local law enforcement official. Luciano was transported to New York to stand trial. He was convicted and sentenced to prison.

These days, the only legal gambling in the area occurs at the Oaklawn Casino and horse track. Bettors can download the Oaklawn Anywhere mobile betting app and legally wager on horse races at Oaklawn and other tracks around the world.

In April, Oaklawn underwent a $100 million expansion that included opening an eight-story, 198-room hotel, with some rooms overlooking the racetrack.

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Mobile Sports Betting Eyed for Arkansas

As the meet gets underway at Oaklawn, the Arkansas Racing Commission, which regulates all gambling in the state, is set to decide Dec. 30 whether to permit statewide mobile sports betting.

If approved by the commission and by a legislative panel, mobile sports betting could begin in Arkansas by January or February, state officials have told

Gov. Asa Hutchinson, R-Ark., has said he supports mobile sports betting partly because it will keep Arkansas competitive with neighboring states, including Tennessee and Louisiana, where mobile wagering has been legalized.

In October, the sportsbooks inside Arkansas’ casinos saw an increase in the amount to money wagered, called “the handle,” compared to the previous month.