A 'skill' casino

Jun 16, 2008 8:32 PM

by Ray Poirier |

Arkansas has a constitutional provision that bans gambling on everything except wagers on horse and dog races and "electronic games of skill."

You would have to wonder, however, if you walked into Charley Cella’s Oaklawn Park or Delaware North’s Southland Greyhound Park in West Memphis, Arkansas. They look more like casinos than horse and dog tracks.

The gimmick is the word "skill."

The state Supreme Court has ruled that electronic games of blackjack, poker and similar devices do not violate the constitutional ban.

So now these gaming devices flood the tracks’ floors, giving the properties the identical appearance of casinos that are located in Tunica, Mississippi, some 70 miles away.

Visitors to the tracks who want to play blackjack sidle up to a machine where a young blonde woman in a corset on a video screen tells them to place their bets. And many people do.

According to the Arkansas Racing Commission, these "electronic games of skill" have produced more than $600 million in the 18 months they have been in operation. This has been a bonanza for the racing purses.

Still, a spokesman for Oaklawn Park emphasized that "We’re a race track first and foremost, so everything we do is done largely to underscore the racing…It’s a marriage of gaming and racing."