Arkansas’ Oaklawn to Allow Some Spectators at Horse Track 

The historic Oaklawn horse track in Arkansas is allowing a limited number of spectators to watch live races for the 2021 season.

Oaklawn
Oaklawn
Horses rush out of the starting gate at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas, at the start of the 2020 season. The track is allowing some spectators for the 2021 season. (Image: KFSM-TV)

When the season opens Jan. 22, guests with a racing credential or reservation for that days races will be permitted to watch from the grandstand, according to Oaklawn’s website. General admission to the grandstand will not be allowed initially.

Weve been working on plans covering numerous scenarios, and were happy to announce we will be welcoming back race fans in 2021, albeit on a limited basis,” General Manager Wayne Smith said.

Box seat holders and Oaklawn Jockey Club members will receive correspondence from Oaklawn about their options. Face masks will be required for employees and spectators. Other coronavirus-related safety measures, such as social distancing, will be enforced.

Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort worked with the Arkansas Department of Health is setting guidelines for the 57-day season. This year’s season ends May 1.

During the season, restaurants inside the grandstand will be open, but reservations are required.

The Oaklawn track is in Hot Springs, about an hour southwest of Little Rock, the state capital. Little Rock is in central Arkansas. 

The dirt track at Oaklawn opened more than 100 years ago. It is home to the annual Arkansas Derby, considered an important run-up to the Triple Crown races. One of the most acclaimed Arkansas Derby winners, American Pharoah, won the Triple Crown in 2015.

Gangsters at Illegal Casinos

Oaklawn is one of three legal casinos in Arkansas. The others are in Pine Bluff and West Memphis. A fourth casino has been licensed for operation in Russellville, but is tied up in a legal dispute. 

For decades, casinos operated illegally but openly in Hot Springs, before authorities shut them down in the 1960s. During this era, Hot Springs was a popular vacation spot for the country’s most notorious gangsters. 

Among the outlaws who visited Hot Springs were Al Capone of Chicago, and East Coast gangsters Charles “Lucky” Luciano and Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel.

Luciano was arrested in Hot Springs in the 1930s and taken back to New York City to stand trial on a prostitution-rackets charge that led to a criminal conviction.

Siegel made headlines in the 1940s after opening the Flamingo hotel-casino south of downtown Las Vegas on what now is the Las Vegas Strip. A few months later he was shot to death at his girlfriend’s home in Beverly Hills. A killer has never been identified.

Illegal casinos are a part of Hot Springs’ past. Oaklawn is the only place in the area now with legal casino gambling.

Dog Track Closure

Of the three casinos in Arkansas, Oaklawn is the only one with a horse track. Southland Casino Racing in West Memphis has a greyhound race track. However, the track is expected to close at the end of 2022.

With the closure at Southland, only two states, Iowa and West Virginia, will be left with greyhound tracks.

If the dog track in Iowa also closes next year as expected, West Virginia would be the only state in the nation with legal dog racing.

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