ANNOUNCES EXPANSION: Louis Cella, president of Oaklawn Jockey Club.

Oaklawn Jockey Club, which operates the racetrack and casino in Hot Springs, announced plans for a $100 million investment at the track including a hotel and events center.

The track plans a 200-room hotel, a spa and outdoor pool. There will be a multipurpose events center and the operation will expand the game rooms, including an outdoor patio bordering the race track.


Gov. Asa Hutchinson was on hand for the announcement, interesting given his opposition to Issue 4, the amendment that solidified casino gambling at the track, previously limited to electronic games of skill. The amendment allows table games and sports wagering and dramatically cuts the state tax on gambling at the track. It increases the amount of money placed into a purse fund for horse racing.

Hutchinson said the investment would build Oaklawn as a “racing venue.” He said the commitment was made apart from Issue 4 and he was made aware of plans before the election. He said the state had given no tax incentive for the project (though a cut in taxes — an estimated $38 million at Oaklawn and Southland in West Memphis in 2019 — couldn’t hurt. Oaklawn took no position on Issue 4, but that was a marked contrast to past efforts to expand casino gambling in Arkansas that the track had opposed. Southland, the dog racing track and casino in West Memphis, backed Issue 4 heavily. Its future otherwise was imperiled with the slow death of greyhound racing. Under existing law, Southland couldn’t operate without dog racing.  The newly approved amendment, which provides for casinos at Oaklawn and Southland and authorizes two more casinos in Jefferson and Pope counties, solves that problem. Southland has also given indication it will be building a hotel at its West Memphis track.


Louis Cella, president of Oaklawn Jockey Club, said the expansion will build visitors to other regional attractions — hiking trails, Magic Springs, lakes and more.

Kane Webb, director of the Parks and Tourism Department, said he believed this might be the biggest single hospitality investment in Arkansas history.


Steve Arrison, director of the local advertising and promotion commission said the addition would enhance Hot Springs as a destination. There’ll be a “ripple effect” on other businesses, he said.

Wayne Smith, general manager at Oaklawn, said the aim was to create a four-star hotel. The event center will hold up to 1,500 people for a concert. Construction begins in May, after conclusion of the racing season, and the gaming expansion is to be open by early 2020. By late 2020, the whole project should be complete. He said about 400 permanent jobs would be created, in addition to 2,300 construction jobs.

In questions afterward, track officials weren’t ready to commit on addition of sports wagering, authorized by the amendment, but the track already does a booming business in off-track wagering, including by cellphone.