Wagering at Arkansas’ only two casinos – Oaklawn and Southland – hit the proverbial jackpot in 2017, topping $5 billion in gambling revenue. The dollar figures only reflect electronic games of skill (EGS), which include gambling spent on video blackjack, poker, slot machines and other electronic casino-style games, not horse or dog racing wagers.
According to statistics from the Arkansas Racing Commission, gamblers at Southland in West Memphis put $3.061 billion in machines for a lucky chance to win throughout 2017. The largest month for activity for Southland was in March 2017 when wagers topped $305,134,267.
At Oaklawn in Hot Springs, the horse track’s casino brought in $1.941 billion in wagers for games of skill. Oaklawn’s largest monthly total was also March 2017 when wagers exceeded $202,221,921.
Combined, the two locations accounted for $5,001,793,534 in EGS wagers for the full year.
In 2016, Southland and Oaklawn combined for $4.81 billion in total EGS wagers, while in 2015 the two tracks’ EGS wagers topped $4.46 billion. Both Oaklawn and Southland expanded their casinos during 2014 when EGS wagers set a then-record of more than $3.53 billion.
Revenues to the state have climbed during this hot streak for casinos in Hot Springs and West Memphis. Arkansas gets 18% of the revenue from EGS wagers. Although the state’s fiscal year (July 1-June 30) doesn’t correspond to race track annual statistics (January 1-December 31), state Department of Finance and Administration officials have reported increasing revenues from EGS.
From July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2017, tax revenue from games of skill brought in $60.3 million to the state. In the previous 12 months, Arkansas collected $55.9 million in tax revenue from EGS wagering. In the first seven months of the current fiscal year for the state, EGS tax revenues stand at $36 million, up 9.7% over the previous year’s corresponding period.
A group attempting to add up to three more legal casinos in Arkansas is working to get a constitutional amendment on the November ballot for voter consideration. Driving Arkansas Forward organized to push for a constitutional amendment – The Arkansas Casino Gaming and Highway Funding Amendment of 2018 – that would allow three casinos to be built in Arkansas with the bulk of the tax revenue dedicated to highway funding.
The proposal would allow a casino to be built in Jefferson County, Crittenden County, and either Miller, Mississippi, Pope, Union or White counties. The Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration’s Lottery Division would oversee the issuance of licenses, which would be handled through a merit-based selection method. There can be no more than three casinos statewide and no more than one in each county. At least $100 million must be invested in each casino.
The proposal says that 65% of tax revenues would be dedicated to state highways, while 22.5% of revenues would go to the city where the casino is located and 10% to the county where the casino is located. The Arkansas Lottery Division, which would regulate the casinos, would receive 2.5% of casino tax revenue.
Potentially, casino revenues from the proposal could bring in an additional $45 million per year for Arkansas roads. Currently, the group is submitting a revised proposal to Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge for qualification to collect signatures.