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Southland Park Gaming and Racing, formerly known as Southland Greyhound Park, is a gambling and entertainment center in West Memphis (Crittenden County) near the intersection of Interstates 55 and 40. Begun as a dog-racing track, it now includes games of skill such as blackjack and live poker games played with electronic cards along with trivia contests, karaoke, and live music. Greyhound racing is available year-round (except for Christmas), six days a week, with simulcast greyhound and thoroughbred horse racing from tracks around the country daily.
Southland Park began as a dog track in 1956. It was the only gambling venue in the Mid-South region and drew visitors from several nearby states. The track offered pari-mutuel betting (French for “mutual stake”), a system common to horse racing as well as greyhound racing. In this system, bets are put together in a pool with odds established before each competition, then paid out after taxes and overhead have been deducted by the management. The betting pool is divided among the winning bets. The system includes variations such as win, place, and show (for the first-, second-, and third-place winners), as well as combinations such as a quinella, exacta, or trifecta, betting pools contingent on the first three finishers. West Memphis was one of only two Arkansas cities to allow pari-mutuel betting, the other being Hot Springs (Garland County) with its horse races at Oaklawn Park Racetrack.
At its opening in 1956, Southland became Arkansas’s only greyhound racetrack, following in the tradition of the earlier Riverside Kennel Club, which was the first greyhound track in West Memphis. Riverside had been located at the Arkansas end of the Mississippi River bridge between West Memphis and Memphis, Tennessee, and proved to be a popular diversion. Based on that popularity, Southland was established after the demise of Riverside. Originally owned by the Upton family and other individuals, Southland was purchased by Delaware North Companies, Inc., based in Buffalo, New York, in the early 1970s.
At its mid-century high point, Southland was said to be the top dog track in the country. Through the 1960s, 1970s, and into the1980s, a typical Saturday night at Southland might see the parking lots full, with 20,000 people in attendance. Annual wagers on the greyhound races at the time generally exceeded $200 million, and more than 600 people were employed at Southland.
All that changed in 1992. To spur their local economy, residents of the nearby Tunica County, Mississippi, area approved “riverboat” gambling. They welcomed gaming establishments in the early 1990s as long as the casinos could show that they were at least in part physically housed on the Mississippi River. Large, nationally known resort-casinos mushroomed around Tunica until it became the third-largest gambling venue in the country, after Las Vegas, Nevada, and Atlantic City, New Jersey, drawing gamblers away from Southland. Southland fell on hard times, with daily attendance ebbing to about 500. Its annual revenues dropped from more than $200 million in the 1980s to less than $35 million in the 1990s. More than half of its employees lost their jobs.
In 2005, however, the Arkansas General Assembly passed Act 1151. It permitted racing tracks in the state to install “games of skill,” such as blackjack and poker or their video counterparts, if approved by their city or county. A majority of more than sixty percent of voters in West Memphis approved permitting such games at Southland. In the latter part of 2006, a renovation costing about $40 million was undertaken to accommodate increased crowds. The renovations included a new main entrance, a new 55,000-square-foot gaming room, a 65,500-square-foot racing floor, a 400-seat event center, a 150-seat nightclub, and a 280-seat buffet with three themed cooking areas. Other on-site restaurants—Quinn & Ella’s, the Kennel Club, and Bourbon Street Steakhouse & Grill—also made it a dining destination.
While attendance has not yet reached its past highs, Southland has seen an increased turnout, with employment and profits almost doubling the pre-expansion figures. A portion of gambling revenues is distributed among the State of Arkansas, the City of West Memphis, and Crittenden County. Southland Park Gaming and Racing runs a total of thirty-three days designated as “Charity Days” each year for disbursement to community, charitable, and other programs as mandated by state legislation. Since 1990, the property has contributed more than $18 million from pari-mutuel racing to public agencies and private, nonprofit organizations including the Boys and Girls Club, American Cancer Society, Muscular Dystrophy, American Legion, American Heart Association, Crittenden Arts Council, and Pathfinders, Inc. Additional revenue goes to award purses, the Arkansas Breeders Awards program, and the Southland Park Community Foundation, which helps fund local scholarships and charities.
For additional information:Ashby, Andrew. “Off to the Races: Southland Chomps at Bit to Regain Lost Tourism Dollars.” Memphis Daily News, June 5, 2006. Online at http://www.memphisdailynews.com/editorial/Article.aspx?id=30379 (accessed October 13, 2014).
Martin, Dixie. “Dog Days at Southland.” Arkansas Business, March 29, 1993, p. 15.
Peacock, Leslie Newell. “Greyhounds Put in Harm’s Way So Racino Can Prosper.” Arkansas Times, June 20, 2012, pp. 14–18. Online at http://www.arktimes.com/arkansas/greyhounds-put-in-harms-way-so-racino-can-prosper/Content?oid=2301847 (accessed October 13, 2014).
Southland Park Gaming and Racing. http://www.southlandgreyhound.com (accessed October 13, 2014).
Nancy HendricksArkansas State University
Last Updated 10/13/2014
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