Arkansas casinos win $687M in ’23

Saracen Casino Resort in Pine Bluff is shown during its grand opening in this Oct. 20, 2020 file photo. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Stephen Swofford)
Saracen Casino Resort in Pine Bluff is shown during its grand opening in this Oct. 20, 2020 file photo. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Stephen Swofford)

Arkansas casino operations saw a combined total win of $686.6 million in 2023, up just shy of 12% from $614.1 million in 2022, according to information provided by the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration.

The end-of-year data came after a fourth quarter where the state's casino operations booked strong winnings for the period. The performance has the state's casinos looking forward to a profitable 2024.

The solid total win numbers posted by Arkansas' casinos didn't surprise Robert W. Powell III, a lecturer and instructor of hospitality management at the School of Human Environmental Sciences in the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences at the University of Arkansas.

During a recent interview, he said the types of gains seen in 2023 are to be expected as the industry grows. He said the state's casinos are experiencing a type of honeymoon period, where pretty much everything is novel and brand new and therefore attractive to customers, and competition is still somewhat limited. He said that will change as the market matures.

Southland Casino in West Memphis' total win for 2023 was $330.6 million, the largest in the state and up 13% from $292.8 million in 2022. Saracen Casino Resort in Pine Bluff's total win was $183 million last year, up 13% from $162 million in 2022, and Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort in Hot Springs' total win was $173 million, up nearly 9% from $159.3 million in 2022.

"Southland Casino Hotel had a strong 2023 in the first full year since our new gaming complex and hotel opened, seeing year-over year revenue increases and continuing to expand our market beyond greater Memphis and Eastern Arkansas as we are discovered as the premier gaming destination in the Mid-South," Osi Imomoh, president and general manager of Southland, said in an emailed statement. "We closed the year with a highly successful New Year's Eve weekend promotion and events that brought 30,000 guests to the casino, including more than 1,200 new players."

For the fourth quarter of 2023, Arkansas casinos saw a total win of $170 million, up 9.1% from $155.85 million for the same quarter a year prior. Southland's total win for the fourth quarter was $81.1 million, up 5% when compared with the year-ago quarter. Saracen's total win for the fourth quarter was $47 million, an increase of 11% from a year ago, and Oaklawn's total win was $41.9 million, up 13% from the same period in 2022.

Total win, also known as gross gaming revenue in the industry, 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.

Oaklawn "delivered another strong fourth quarter and full year 2023," Wayne Smith, Oaklawn's general manager, said in response to a request for comment. "We are pleased to see our best-in-class property offerings are producing at a high level. ... While we have started 2024 with significant weather and construction on I-30 dysfunction, we are positioned to see a great 2024."

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 figures for the nation for 2023 are not yet available. U.S. casinos saw gross gambling revenue of $59.8 billion in 2023 through November, up 9.5%, according to the association's tracker.

Carlton Saffa, chief market officer for Saracen, which is owned by the Quapaw Nation, said in an interview the casino's year was strong and the fourth quarter was unexpectedly good, particularly in December, a solid indicator that the traditionally strong first quarter of 2024 would be exceptional.

"I expect huge things this year," he said.

Saffa said new construction at the casino -- a 440,000-square-foot project including a hotel tower and new event center -- will be "in the dry" by late summer with a completion date of sometime in 2025. The event center will seat 1,600 in a concert setting or about 1,000 for a dinner and is modular to allow use of only part of the space as needed. The new 13-floor hotel tower will have 326 rooms, with about half of those suites. He said the project has been delayed and costs have gone up from the initial $150 million projected to $220 million now.

"There are cranes in the air now," he said.

Southland's Imomoh said in early 2024 Southland will see the completion of the new west entrance and the casino will continue to enhance the guest experience at the casino and hotel. He said the casino's marketing and promotion will expand to attract new customers.

Going forward, UA's Powell said, Arkansas casinos will have to compete through what he called a "Disney-like" model, where they will likely present new attractions and other offerings, at least yearly, in a bid to lure and keep customers, as other gambling options become available and competition intensifies.

"It's hand-to-hand combat for your customer base," he explained.

Smith from Oaklawn said the operation continues to enhance its racing and gambling offerings to further differentiate from its competitors.

"Our increased guest engagement and insights prove to us we are moving in the right direction," Smith said. "Our monthly active users in Oaklawn Sports continues to increase month to month, as well. Oaklawn's resort continue to provide unrivaled entertainment experiences from our Forbes Recommended luxury hotel, Forbes Four-Star rated Astral Spa, culinary tastes for all occasions, groups and convention meeting space and live entertainment."

For the year, 2023's terminal win for Arkansas' casinos totaled $580.23 million, up about 7% from 2022. Southland's annual terminal win of $282.13 million was an increase of about 10%. Saracen's total terminal win for the year was $145.73 million, up 7%, while Oaklawn's terminal win for the year was $152.45 million, up 7% from 2022.

Terminal total win in Arkansas for the fourth quarter was $139.4 million, up 6% when compared with a year ago. Southland's terminal win for the fourth quarter stood at $68.8 million, a gain of a little more than 4.6%; Saracen's terminal win for the fourth quarter was $35.13 million, up nearly 7% quarter-to quarter; and Oaklawn's terminal win was $35.44 million, a gain of 8% from 2022.

Total win for mobile sports betting for all of the state's casinos in 2023 was $31.38 million. A comparison to 2022 isn't consistent, since Arkansas' operations didn't all begin operating mobile betting at the same time in 2022. For the year, Saracen's total win from mobile sports betting was $19.7 million, while Southland's total was $7.62 million and Oaklawn brought in $4.1 million in 2023.

Saracen's Saffa said the casino saw strong growth in its mobile betting segment in 2023, an area where the operation seeks to dominate. He said recent offerings including "flash betting" and its BetSwap Marketplace are popular with the casino's customers.

Total mobile betting for the fourth quarter in Arkansas was $12.5 million, up from $2.27 million from the same period a year ago. Saracen saw the largest total win in mobile betting for the fourth quarter with $7.3 million, up from $393,376 for the fourth quarter of 2022. Southland's total win for the fourth quarter for mobile betting was $3.2 million, up from $1.28 million in the fourth quarter of 2022. Oaklawn's total win for the fourth quarter on mobile betting was $2.1 million, up from $676,875 for the same period a year ago.

In 2023 the total net win for table games for all three casinos combined stood at $69.1 million, up 10.5% from the year prior. Southland dominated in table games for the year with net winnings of $38.2 million, up 25.7% for the year; Saracen's 2023 table game net win was $16.5 million, down 11.7%; and Oaklawn's was $14.4 million, up 7.5%.

For the fourth quarter, table games across the three casinos saw a net win of $15.6 million. Southland's fourth quarter saw total win of $8.2 million, down 8.2%; Saracen's table games booked total winnings of $4.4 million, up 4.3%; and Oaklawn's table games saw winnings of $3.5 million, up 17.5%.

Arkansas casinos paid $23.01 million in state taxes in the fourth quarter. For the year of 2023, the casinos paid a total of $104.58 million in taxes to the state, up nearly 16% from 2022.

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%.

Amendment 100 to the state constitution, 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 each at Arkansas' established thoroughbred racetrack and at Southland, which began as a dog track. It also authorizes sports betting. Plans for a Pope County casino are mired in litigation.

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