by Sarah Campbell-Miller and Lance Turner on Monday, Nov. 19, 2018 10:58 am
Less than two weeks after voters approved casino gambling in Arkansas, Oaklawn Racing and Gaming on Monday announced a $100 million expansion that will include a 200-room high-rise hotel, a 14,000-SF event center and 28,000 SF of new gaming space.
The racetrack called the project “one of the largest hospitality investments in the history of Arkansas.” The project is privately funded; it did not receive any state or local incentives.
“This historic announcement represents a new chapter in the rich 114-year history of Oaklawn,” Louis Cella, president of Oaklawn Jockey Club, said in a news release. “As we enhance the entertainment experience for our customers, we will also further elevate thoroughbred racing and help make Arkansas and Hot Springs even stronger regional tourism destinations.”
During an event at Oaklawn to announce the expansion, Cella said the project would be “world-class,” secure Oaklawn’s future and maintain its status as “one of the top thoroughbred race tracks in the country.”
Oaklawn General Manager Wayne Smith said the expansion will result in 400 permanent jobs. Construction will employ about 2,300 people.
The yet-unnamed hotel will be seven stories with 200 rooms, including two presidential suites. Amenities will include an outdoor swimming pool, a luxury spa, fitness center and restaurant, according to Oaklawn’s plans.
Smith said half of hotel’s rooms will offer “one-of-a-kind” views of the track; the other half will have mountain and lake views. He said the goal for the hotel is to achieve “4-star status.”
There will also be more parking, and outdoor patios in the gaming area and restaurant that will face the track. The events center will accommodate up to 1,500 people.
Construction will begin in May following the 2019 racing season. The target completion date for the gaming expansion is January 2020 with the hotel and event center to be completed in late 2020.
By a vote of 54 percent to 46 percent, Arkansas voters approved this month Issue 4, an amendment to the state Constitution allowing casinos at two existing racetracks — Oaklawn and Southland Racing and Gaming in West Memphis — and in Pope and Jefferson counties.
Oaklawn did not take a side during the campaign for the casino amendment, led by a group called Driving Arkansas Forward. But Southland voiced support for the measure, saying it would significantly expand its Crittenden County operation if the measure passed.
On Monday, Cella said Oaklawn had been planning for this expansion for some time.
“While one may assume that today’s announcement comes in response to the passage of Issue 4 on November 6, we actually began planning for this during our last expansion in 2014,” he said. “Our goal then, as it is now, is to use a quality gaming experience to enhance racing and help attract even more great champions to Arkansas such as Smarty Jones, Zenyatta, and American Pharoah.”
Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who also attended Monday’s announcement, said Oaklawn executives told him about the expansion in October and added that the passage of Issue 4 wasn’t “relevant” to the park’s plans.
“It is important to underscore and emphasize this is a commitment to Arkansas; it’s a commitment to Hot Springs that we value,” Hutchinson said. “Tourism is our second-leading industry in Arkansas. It’s the second-leading economic driver for our state. … Fifteen-hundred people receive a job during the peak of the season here at Oaklawn. That’s a $200 million economic impact.”
Kane Web, director of Arkansas Parks & Tourism, and Visit Hot Springs CEO Steve Arrison also spoke at the announcement.
“Christmas came early to Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas,” Arrison said. “… I’m saying ‘wow’ to the meeting space. This will complement the meeting space we have down at the Hot Springs Convention Center. It’s not going to compete with it. It’s going to make more and more groups look at us.”
HBG Design of Memphis is the architectural firm for the expansion. Flintco Construction of Springdale is the contractor.