Visitors looking for a new twist on activities that Hot Springs has traditionally been known for would do well to spend some time at Oaklawn Park.

A premier Thoroughbred track for more than 100 years, Oaklawn has entered a glitzy new era of wagering, including electronic blackjack, poker and other games of skill, making the club an attraction 363 days a year (it’s closed on Christmas and Easter). In May 2009, the club began a $30 million, 90,000-square-foot expansion to house 1,000 gaming machines. Complete with restaurants and bars, the new area teems with the sights, sounds and excitement typically associated with such places as Las Vegas and Atlantic City.

For a more traditional thrill, Oaklawn’s live racing season runs from January into April. The track has historically attracted famed horses such as Count Fleet, Smarty Jones and Curlin, who have gone on to participate in the Triple Crown races. That’s not to mention Oaklawn’s simulcasting, or off-track betting, throughout the year on horse racing (and greyhound racing) around the world. Bettors can watch the races on large screens as they occur.

Over the years, visitors have found a balance between the tranquility of the thermal springs and the invigoration of the nearby racetrack. A centerpiece of Arkansas entertainment since 1904, the track’s allure has grown with the expanded electronic gaming, which has allowed Oaklawn to pay bigger purses for the winning horses. With more at stake, Oaklawn has become increasingly attractive to world-class competitors. The Arkansas Derby, a stepping stone to the Triple Crown, is the perfect day for people-watching, since some visitors come dressed in their finest clothes and hats to watch some of the world’s greatest Thoroughbreds compete on Oaklawn’s mile-long oval track.

Even visitors who have no interest in racing or wagering often visit Oaklawn for its famed cuisine, found throughout the facility at such places as the Carousel Terrace Restaurant, the Post Parade Restaurant, Lagniappe’s, a number of buffets and the exclusive Oaklawn Club, which sits atop the huge, enclosed grandstand. Some of the restaurants are open throughout the year while others are open only during the live racing season.