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Oaklawn outpaces Louisiana Downs - KTBS.com - Shreveport, LA News, Weather and Sports

Oaklawn outpaces Louisiana Downs

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. -

Whether it's the thrill of the sport, or the love of a good wager,  there is still a market for horse racing though nationwide attendance has suffered in the face of more gambling options across the country.
    
So what is the key to a successful season?
    
While Oaklawn in Hot Springs is winding down, Louisiana Downs in Bossier Parish is just now heating up.

From all over the Ark-La-Tex and beyond, visitors stop by Oaklawn to watch live thoroughbred races Thursdays through Sundays.

The facility first opened 110 years ago, but this season spokesperson Jennifer Hoyt says they're on track to make history.   

"We expect to see 600,000 people during our live race meet alone, and over 1 million visitors during January and December," said Hoyt.

While Oaklawn has been named by the Arkansas tourism officials as one of the top tourist destinations in the state, Hoyt says to the horsing industry it's also big business.

She says they're projected to end the season with an all-time record of $22 million in purses.    

"When you just tell people your giving away these purses they want to be here," explained Hoyt.

Oaklawn averages about 54 days a season.

In 2005, Oaklawn approved electronic gambling including slots.

Since then, their purses have doubled. Horse trainer Ron Moquett says higher purses equal a higher quality of thoroughbred horses, racing in any given season.

"Better venues will always have the bigger crowds because they want to see good horses," said Moquett.
 
Oaklawn's horse racing season runs January through April, which compliments Louisiana Down's season which is preparing to kick off soon.

Last year, the total purses for its thoroughbred season was nearly $13 million.

That's about $10 million short of what Oaklawn expects to pay this season.

Louisiana State Representative Henry Burns is proposing a bill to cut the number of racing days from a minimum of 80 to 30 days.

Burns is also proposing to reduce the percentage of slot machine revenue for purses to 8 percent.

The trade off should allow for higher purses.   

"Right now, many people have elected not to race Louisiana Downs because of the small purses," said Burns.
 
Burns says he proposed the bill to get the conversation started on how they keep Louisiana Downs viable for the future.

"I think we need to get together and hopefully we'll emerge with something that will assist both sides, and we can reinvigorate the industry for everyone involved," said Burns.

His bill also calls for the elimination of quarter horse racing.
    
Currently, Oaklawn only races thoroughbreds.

The handle, or amount of money wagered, at Oaklawn was about $153 million last season.
    
Louisiana Downs had a $103 million handle during the same year.

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