rkansas casinos have lost more than $1.4 billion in gaming terminal wagers this year, but the state's three gambling venues show signs of a rebound, according to data released by the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration.
Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort, Southland Casino Racing and Saracen Casino Resort each saw business drop beginning in March, when the state reported its first case of the virus. Gov. Asa Hutchinson ordered the casinos to close that month as the virus spread. They remained closed until mid-May, when they were allowed to reopen under a state health directive requiring social distancing and reduced guest capacity.
Terminal wagers at Oaklawn between March and July, the last month data was available, were down $700 million compared to the same period in 2019, KATV reports. Wagers at Southland fell $743 million. Saracen opened in September 2019, and it handled $312 million in terminal wagers in its first five months of business. Wagers fell to $128 million between March and July, a 42 percent decrease.
But the casinos have seen an increase in terminal wagers each month since reopening. Oaklawn, which is operating with nearly half of its 1,547 gaming terminals out of service, handled more than $52 million in wagers in May after reopening in the middle of the month. Wagers at the Hot Springs casino increased to $104 million in June and nearly $120 million in July. Wagers in July were about 80 percent of wagers placed the same month in 2019.
"We are pleased with where our business volumes are today given we are in the middle of a pandemic,” Oaklawn General Manager Wayne Smith said. He said staff and guests are adhering to health protocols. The casino requires everyone to wear a mask at all times and checks temperatures at the door. “We are proud to maintain the highest standards of cleanliness and believe we are one of the safest businesses to visit," Smith said.
Southland Casino Racing in West Memphis reduced its gaming terminals by nearly half to 1,108 when it reopened in mid-May. The casino handled $92 million in wagers that month. Wagers increased to $200 million in June and $242 million in July. Wagers in July were down only 10 percent compared to July 2019.
Pine Bluff's Saracen Casino Resort Carlton Saffa said the turnout since they reopened in May has been "exceptional." "Our staff is diligent in keeping the annex a safe place for guests, many who have expressed their comfort in returning to the Saracen Annex," Saffa said.
Saracen Casino Resort has been operating from annex while construction on the main building continues in Pine Bluff. The casino, which is about 80 percent complete, had 300 gaming terminals in service before and after the shutdown. It collected more than $14 million in wagers in May. That figure increased to $35 million in June and more than $42 million in July. The casino recently held a job fair attempting to fill over 200 positions in its food and beverage department. Casino management said they received hundreds of applications. The casino's grand opening is tentatively set for October.
Department of Finance and Administration spokesperson Scott Hardin said he has been impressed with Saracen's "extremely thorough" safety measures during the pandemic. "We really have been impressed with the steps that all of the casinos have been taking," Hardin said. "Obviously, the revenue is not what it would normally be. That's to be expected."
The three casinos, operating at partial capacity and under strict health guidelines, brought in $4.5 million in total state taxes in July. The state received the same amount from Southland and Oaklawn together in July 2019, before Saracen opened.
"The state economy, in general, is outperforming our expectations ... that carries over to the casinos," Hardin said. "I think within the next two to three months, we could see the normal levels of revenue we saw this time last year."