by Max Brantley
The New York Times reports today on a gambling development directly relevant to Arkansas.
After a decade in which more than half the greyhound tracks in the country have closed, many of the remaining operations have survived thanks to the model used at Bluffs Run. Over the years, the tracks, which were there first, won permission from states to add slot machines and poker tables under the condition that a chunk of the profits go to the dog races — essentially subsidizing one form of gambling with another.
Now, after years defending greyhound racing against attacks that it is inhumane, a growing number of track owners are, to the astonishment of opponents and the dismay of fans, joining the critics among the animal rights groups. Complaining that they are being forced to spend millions of dollars a year to subsidize a pastime that the public has all but abandoned, greyhound track owners in Iowa, Florida and Arizona have been lobbying for changes in the law that would allow them to cut the number of races, or even shut down their tracks, while keeping their far more lucrative gambling operations running.
In short, greyhound racing has gone to the dogs. There's no money to be made there. There's money to be made in casino gambling. Both Southland Park in West Memphis, a greyhound track, and Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, a horse track, are raking in casino gambling dollars under the pretense that they are offering electronic games of skill. These games look a whole lot like slot machines, blackjack tables and poker tables.
As Arkansas law now stands, the casino games are only allowed at the tracks, which must have live racing. You have to wonder, though, if — more like when — Southland someday won't join others in the industry seeking less dog racing, or none at all. Southland took in $1.31 billion in casino wagering in 2011. It paid out about $1.23 billion in winnings. That left about $80 million for profit and overhead, including taxes.
Horse racing, by the way, seems to have retained more popularity than dog racing, though it has declined in attendance as well as fans seek the faster action of increasingly easy-to-find casinos.