Arkansas casinos report 23% first quarter jump in winnings

A roulette wheel spins in 2018 at Cherokee Casino & Hotel in West Siloam Springs, Okla. (File Photo/NWA Democrat-Gazette/Ben Goff)
A roulette wheel spins in 2018 at Cherokee Casino & Hotel in West Siloam Springs, Okla. (File Photo/NWA Democrat-Gazette/Ben Goff)

Arkansas casinos won a total of $177 million dollars during the first three months of the year, up 23% for the same period a year ago.

Southland Casino Hotel in West Memphis brought in the most cash at $84.4 million for the January through March period, up 25% from $66.7 million last year. Saracen Casino Resort in Pine Bluff won $46.6 million for the period, up from $39.2 million, while Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort in Hot Springs won $46 million, up from $41.5 million.

The three casino’s total win for 2022 was $614 million — up nearly 9% from the previous year.

Total win, also known as gross gambling revenue, is the difference between gambling wins and losses before deducting the casino’s costs and expenses. The figure in Arkansas includes wins from terminal games like slot machines and video poker; table games like craps and blackjack; and sports betting, both inside the casino and online.

Carlton Saffa, chief market officer for Saracen Casino Resort, which is owned by the Quapaw Nation, said the casino business, like many, is seasonal, and typically the first quarter can be an indicator of how well the year will go. He said while tax time can help put disposable income into the hands of casino goers, high inflation can weigh on some and it also increases the casinos fixed costs.

“We had a strong first quarter and a record March,” he said.

Amendment 100, approved by Arkansans in the November 2018 election, allows for four casino licenses to be issued in the state — one each for casinos in Pope and Jefferson counties, and one at each of Arkansas’ established racetracks. It also authorizes sports betting.

Nationally, commercial gambling revenue was $60.4 billion in 2022, an annual record, according to the American Gaming Association’s Commercial Gaming Revenue Tracker. It was the first year revenue topped $60 billion annually for the sector, beating the previous record of $53 billion in 2021.

Total win for terminal wagers in Arkansas — the largest revenue generator for all three of the state’s casinos — was $149.8 million, up 14% from $131.3 million for the first three months of last year. For the period folks placed $1.8 billion in bets in Arkansas’ casinos, down slightly from 1.9 billion in 2022, but all three casinos were operating fewer terminals during the quarter compared to last year.

Southland won the most with $71.6 million for the period, up 19% from $60.1 million. Oaklawn won $41 million, up from $37 million while Saracen won $37.2 million, up from $34.2 million for first three months of 2022. Terminal wagers include bets on slot machines and video poker.

“We’re pleased that Southland Casino Hotel has continued to see revenue growth in our casino offerings and Betly retail and mobile sports betting a year after our new gaming floor and restaurants opened,” Osi Imomoh, president and general manager of Southland Casino Hotel, said in response to emailed questions. “We are also continuing to market the new hotel to help promote the casino as a super-regional destination and attract more visitors from a broader geography. We look forward to a strong spring and summer for the casino.”

In 2022, Southland’s owner — Delaware North — finished a $320 million project to transform Southland into a Las Vegas-style casino destination. The project added a 113,000-square-foot casino floor with 2,400 slot machines and 50 table games and 20-story, 300-room luxury hotel and eight restaurants. During the year the complex was rebranded as Southland Casino Hotel. Live greyhound racing there ended in December.

Emailed requests for comment from Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort regarding its first quarter of 2023 were not returned. Oaklawn's revenue from bets on thoroughbred horse racing is not included in the casino totals.

Mobile betting total win at Arkansas’ casinos for the first three months of the year — which included the Super Bowl and March Madness — stood at $6.9 million. For the period, gamers bet $78.8 million, with the majority of those bets, $53.2 million, placed with Saracen. The state’s three casinos began taking mobile bets at various times last year.

Saracen won the most on mobile bets for the first quarter with $4.8 million. Southland was next with $1.57 million and Oaklawn reported $576,000 in winnings. Last year in total, the casinos won $10.5 million on mobile betting, with Saracen accounting for more than half of that figure.

Saracen’s Saffa said the casino is focused on being the premier sports betting choice in Arkansas, and said it continues to innovate to keep and attract new customers. He said mobile betting tends to attract a younger, male demographic something that diversifies the casino’s customer base.

Winnings from table games for the first quarter totalled $18.3 million, up 33% from $13.7 million from last year.

Southland took the majority of the revenue with $10.3 million, up from $5.5 million last year. Saracen’s win on table games was $4.3 million, down slightly from $4.6 million for the period while Oaklawn won $3.7 million, up from $3.6 million last year.

In a recent statement, analyst Dru James said the state’s casinos had a strong March across the board but he indicated gains will likely be less dramatic as the year progresses.

“Looking ahead, these large increases are unlikely to remain sustainable,” he said. “The spring and summer will bring fewer betting opportunities as many professional and college sports’ season will come to an end (if they haven’t already).”

The casinos paid a total of $29 million in taxes to the state during the first quarter, up 30% from $22.3 million for the same period last year. In 2022, the state’s casinos paid a total of $90.24 million in taxes to the state from winnings, up from $80.57 million a year earlier.

In Arkansas, the first $150 million of casino gambling revenue is taxed at 13% and casino gambling revenue over $150 million is taxed at 20%. Taxes from the Arkansas casinos are distributed in the following manner — 55% goes to the state’s general fund; the casino’s host city gets 19.5%; the Arkansas Racing Commission Purse and Awards Fund gets 17.5% and the host county gets 8%.