EXPANSION COMING: An expanded Oaklawn casino is expected in 2020, but conventional casino games should begin by April 1, a state official says.

The state Racing Commission will meet Saturday and is expected to begin the licensing process for full-fledged casino operations at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs and Southland Park in West Memphis.

Scott Hardin, spokesman for the Department of Finance and Administration, told the Associated Press that it was expected full casino operations could begin by April 1.

Neither casino (they already operate as electronic versions of everything from blackjack and poker to craps and roulette) has made a formal announcement when newly legalized sports betting will begin. I heard an Oaklawn official say on a radio talk show recently that the hope was for sports betting to begin by the end of April.

Both Oaklawn and Southland plan enlarged casinos and new hotels thanks to the amendment, helped by a substantial cut in the tax on gambling included in the new amendment.

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The amendment allowing full casinos — real cards, real dice, real roulette wheels and so on — was approved in November. The amendment also opened the door to casinos in Jefferson County and Pope County. The Quapaw tribe of Oklahoma is well advanced in seeking a permit to build in Pine Bluff. The Pope County situation is cloudier. Many gambling enterprises are interested, but a local ordinance requiring a vote in Pope County first and the unwillingness of the county judge and Russellville mayor to approve a casino without a vote are complications. One legal theory says the amendment mandates a casino in Pope County. Another legal theory says the local vote ordinance is unconstitutional.