Arkansas’ new casino gambling law continues to take shape after voters approved a constitutional amendment allowing it last year.
In the wake of that approval, the state’s two big gaming centers — Oaklawn and Southland — have announced major expansion plans.
As Lance Turner of Arkansas Business reports, while those plans offer more competition for some nearby businesses, others like hotels are looking forward to a rising tide that could life all boats.
Jim Shamburger has a front-row seat to anything that happens at Oaklawn Racing & Gaming in Hot Springs. Shamburger owns the Best Western Winner Circle Inn just across the street from the racetrack.
So he couldn’t have been happier when Oaklawn announced plans for a $100 million expansion in mid-November, one that would include a 200-room hotel, an 28,000-SF casino and a 14,000-SF events center.
Tourism is not like retail where buying a product from one outlet keeps business from another.
Shamburger calls it a “rising-tide-lifts-all-ships” industry, where more attractions means more people coming to enjoy them — creating paying customers for everyone.
Shamburger said the expansion will draw more than enough people to take care of Oaklawn, his 120-room hotel and others in local tourism industry.
Oaklawn’s multipurpose facility, he said, will attract conventions and music events — adding more room nights to the local market.
Steve Arrison is the CEO of Visit Hot Springs. He says the casino expansion is adding to momentum the city is experiencing downtown.
There, the Arlington Hotel is undergoing a multi-million dollar renovation, and nearly 200 other new hotel rooms have recently come online.
Arrison said the new hotel rooms fill a need. For the longest time, the city had a lot of hotel rooms, but not those of the best quality. That is changing, he said.
Tourism leaders and real estate owners in Pine Bluff are sounding similar notes.
Jefferson County will soon been home to the new $350 million Saracen Casino Resort complex on 300 acres just east of The Pines Mall in south Pine Bluff.
Tom Reilley is a board member of the nonprofit Pine Bluff Rising, which bought the historic Hotel Pines in downtown Pine Bluff for in 2017.
The group has announced a $35 million renovation plan for the seven-story hotel, which had been a crumbling mess since 1970.
Reilly said that the hospitality industry is a cornerstone of any good economic development plan — a signature asset of the Arkansas Delta.
While Reilly said he couldn’t speak to the casino’s business plan, he said his group is looking forward to a significant tourist draw, and his hotel would be there to reap the benefits.