The Memphis city skyline is about to get some competition from the Arkansas side of the Mississippi River as Southland Park Gaming & Racing made a major announcement on Thursday.
The long-time dog track and “racino” in West Memphis, owned by Delaware North, announced a $250 million expansion is in the works. Plans include a full casino and a 20-story hotel, that would easily be the tallest structure in Crittenden County, and it would be among the tallest buildings in Memphis. The Bass Pro Shops at The Pyramid, the most distinctive building in Memphis is, for example, 32 stories tall.
Construction, company officials said, would start this summer at the greyhound track with the new casino coming in a year, while the 300-room hotel would open late fall 2020.
At the press conference announcing the expansion Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson told reporters gathered that the $250 million project, “is the largest investment in the tourism industry in the history of Arkansas as far as I know.”
Delaware North bought Southland in the 1970s and the Buffalo, N.Y.-based company has spent more than $100 million in renovations and improvements to the facility. Renovations have been made mostly in the racino, or electronic gambling, at the track along with expanding and improving dining facilities.
The company said in a press release that about 400 jobs would be created by the expansion and the total workforce at Southland would jump to 1,200 employees.
When the casino is complete at Southland, company officials said, it will have about 2,500 electronic gambling machines such as slots and electronic poker, along with 60 tables for card games and roulette, among other games of chance.
The current buffet restaurant will also expand, while new restaurants and bars will join the mix.
While Southland is rising, nearby Tunica, Miss., and its riverboat gambling is sinking. A Harrah’s complex that once covered 2,200 acres has closed, while a Caesar’s-owned Tunica Roadhouse Casino is set to close at the end of January.
Key to all the expansion in West Memphis was the decision by Arkansas voters to approve an amendment to the state Constitution to allow four casinos in the state.
Voters approved the new amendment 54-46 and the measure was financially supported by gambling interests in Hot Springs and West Memphis, along with the Cherokee and Quapaw tribes, which are, respectively, backing casino plans in Pope and Jefferson counties.
The casino amendment could be financially lucrative for the state in the form of tax receipts, with 13 percent on revenue up to $150 million and 20 percent on earnings of more than $150 million.
The Arkansas Economic Development Institute at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock estimated annual tax revenue for the state at $120 million.
AEDI also estimated that 30 percent of Arkansans regularly travel to visit casinos, including 1.149 million visits by Arkansans to Mississippi casinos over the past 12 months.
Shortly after the November election results were final, the Oaklawn Jockey Club announced an expansion project of more than $100 million that will include approximately 28,000 square feet of gaming space; a seven-story, 200-room hotel; 14,000 square-foot multi-purpose events center and expanded parking, Arkansas Money & Politics reported. Construction will start when racing season ends this May.
That November news was followed in December with another Arkansas Money & Politics story on the planned Saracen Casino Resort in Pine Bluff. It would also feature a 20-story structure and cover around 200 acres.
The fourth location, in Pope County, was also approved by voters, but has since been stymied locally as residents there aren’t willing to roll the dice on casino gambling there.