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The former chairman of the now-defunct Arkansas Lottery Commission, John C. "Smokey" Campbell of Hot Springs, started work this week as the director of the Arkansas Racing Commission.

The commission regulates thoroughbred and greyhound racing in the state, including Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs and Southland Gaming and Racing in West Memphis.

Campbell said his first day was Tuesday.

He replaced Ron Oliver of North Little Rock, a former chairman of the state Democratic Party, who Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe appointed to the post in 2007. Oliver, 68, said he's retiring, but he plans to open an office to do consulting work.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, appointed Campbell because of his background in business and finance and familiarity with the racing industry, said Hutchinson spokesman J.R. Davis.

"Those aspects made him an excellent fit for the position," Davis said Thursday.

Campbell will be paid an annual salary of $65,324, Davis said. Oliver was paid $77,538 a year.

Campbell said he retired about a year ago after farming for about 25 years and also working in the banking industry and as as a sales manager for an agricultural chemical company.

He's a brother of former Arkansas Game and Fish Commissioner Craig Campbell of Little Rock, who is vice chairman of The Stephens Group LLC.

John Campbell said serving as the racing commission's director "ought to be a lot of fun meeting with a lot of new folks."

"It was offered [by the governor]. I never knew there was [such] a position that the governor appointed," Campbell said.

He said the governor hasn't given him any marching orders.

Racing Commission Chairman Cecil Alexander of Heber Springs called Campbell "a fine young man."

Campbell declined to disclose his age.

"Ron was a great director and did a good job and I'm sure Smokey will do a good job," Alexander said.

"I think [the agency] will be operated as it has in the past," he said, adding that the Hot Springs and West Memphis gambling sites raise about $50 million a year in taxes for the state.

In fiscal 2015, the state collected $47.3 million in taxes from electronic games of skill at the two racetracks and $2.79 million in taxes from racing, said state budget administrator Duncan Baird.

Eric Jackson, general manager at Oaklawn Park, said Campbell is a racing fan and knowledgeable about the racing industry.

"I have run into him in the grandstand," he said.

An appointee of Senate President Pro Tempore Bob Johnson, D-Bigelow, Campbell served on the lottery commission from May 2010 through Feb. 26, when Hutchinson signed a law eliminating the board and moving the lottery into the state Department of Finance and Administration.

In April 2014, Campbell voted with most of the other lottery commissioners to pursue implementation of electronic monitor games -- a day after a majority of the Legislature's lottery oversight committee, led by Sen. Jimmy Hickey, R-Texarkana, declared its opposition to the games. Lobbyists for Oaklawn Park also opposed the lottery's proposed expansion into electronic monitor games.

In a special session in July 2014 , the Legislature enacted Hickey's legislation blocking the lottery from deploying these games through mid-March.

State Sen. Bill Sample, R-Hot Springs, said he's "a little bit surprised" by Campbell's appointment as racing commission director, but he doesn't have a problem with it.

Hickey said he's "never dealt directly" with Campbell. "I don't have anything to say on that. It's outside my district and the governor's deal."

Metro on 08/28/2015

Print Headline: Ex-lottery overseer set to lead state racing panel

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