NEW FACILITY: An Oaklawn Park photo of its new Vegas-style center for electronic games.
Is Arkansas ready to be a break-out lottery state, with ticket sales beyond most expectations? In six months, we'll know.
But meanwhile, here's one potential barometer on the yen to gamble, the monthly state report on wagering on the "electronic games of skill" at Southland and Oaklawn, the dog and horse tracks in West Memphis and Hot Springs, respectively.
The electronic games -- blackjack, poker and other games in which some decision-making by players factors into the outcome -- have been on a steady upward trajectory since they were introduced in 2006. That was particularly true in May when Oaklawn opened a facility devoted to electronic games and enjoyed a big jump in revenue. It is a Vegas-style entertainment center that is soon to include a theater with name entertainment and a restaurant.
But something happened in June. Overall wagering on this form of gambling (the track numbers don't include the Instant Racing parimutuel machines or off-track betting) dropped at both tracks. The drop was precipitous at Southland, from $38.6 million gross wagering in May to $31.4 million in June. The drop at Oaklawn was small, from about $27.4 million gross in May to $27.1 million in June.
Both tracks are maintaining a high payout ratio relative to many others in the industry nationwide. "Loose slots" is the familiar players' term, though these machines are not pure-chance slot machines in the strictest sense. In June, both Oaklawn and Southawn paid back about 94.6 percent of gross wagering in winnings. Payouts in the 80s aren't unheard of in some rapacious locales.
UPDATE: Southland General Manager Troy Keeping said two things about the numbers. 1) Winter gambling numbers are generally more robust compared with summer, with competing vacation and outdoor interests. 2) Southland has been adversely affected by major road construction that, in the long run will improve access to the track from Interstates 40 and 55, but currently has restricted traffic on both routes to one lane and caused some tough traffic backups. The track is putting out the word on "backdoor" routes to reach the track during construction, which is to continue through the year.