They're off at Oaklawn Park | Arkansas Blog

They're off at Oaklawn Park



Oaklawn Park begins 56 days of "live" racing today and the Democrat-Gazette's horseman, Robert Yates, put together an interesting package on the increasing impact of machine gambling on receipts at the track. Since he has to work with Oaklawn officials every day, it's not surprising that his lead is that real horse racing is still king at the track, though every indicator shows the contrary. Oaklawn is a racino, which, by April, means it will have a 1,000 coin-slot operated machines that, for all Yates' repetition of the phrase "skill-based," will be operated on a simple mathematical formula -- they'll pay off at the rate they are set to pay off, skill be damned. (And this Lock and Roll game? Skill? Please.)

You decide:

Live racing -- 56 days

Machine gambling 365 days.

Money bet on live racing in 2006: $53 million

Money bet on machines in 2006: $220 million (and this will skyrocket in 2007 thanks to all those skillful video poker and blackjack players flocking to new machines.)

Money bet on live racing in 1989: $119.6 million (and that, thanks to inflation, was worth at least double an equivalent dollar amount in 2006)

Money bet on machines in 1989: Zero.

I don't doubt owner Charles Cella's fondness for thoroughbred racing. Or GM Eric Jackson's commitment to the sport. But slots are now the tail wagging the horse at Oaklawn.

Machine gambling is touted for its beneficial effects on horse racing purses, which supposedly produce better horses, more avid horse players, etc.  Clearly, that's hokum if betting is off more than 50 percent (and more in real dollars) over a 17-year period. Also, I note that average daily purses have increased only about 30 percent, by about $60,000 a day, since machine gambling arrived at Oaklawn, or a total of $3 million in 2005, not a huge jump against inflation. I'm not sure how impressive a share of the take that is against the machine gambling handle, which jumped from 0 to $220 million annual. I believe Oaklawn gets a "takeout" up to 17 percent, or $35 million on a $220 million handle. Of course it has overhead.


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