Wayne Smith Named General Manager At Oaklawn Park

Oaklawn President Charles Cella announced today that Wayne Smith has been named General Manager.

“Wayne Smith begins an exciting new era for Oaklawn,” said Cella, whose family has owned and operated Oaklawn since its founding in 1904. “It's been a tremendous pleasure working with Eric Jackson. Because of his dedication and guidance, Oaklawn has become a leader in both racing and gaming. We look forward to Wayne building on that success.”

This announcement fulfills a two-year plan that began with a nation-wide search and Smith working side by side with Jackson over the last year as he learned the entire operation from the ground up. Jackson is stepping aside after 39 years, 30 years as General Manager, and will now serve in the position of Senior Vice President.

Smith is only the sixth General Manager in Oaklawn's 113 year history. He follows Peter J. Holmes, R. Stanley Weber, J. Sweeney Grant, W.T. Bishop and Jackson.

“Until Instant Racing, which began in 2000, we only focused on horse racing,” said Louis Cella, a member of Oaklawn's Board of Directors and the youngest son of Charles Cella. “Today, we have transitioned into a fully integrated racing and gaming facility, with gaming contingent upon a viable and thriving racing product. Under Eric's leadership, we have created an atmosphere we call the ‘Oaklawn Way' and Wayne has been able to experience this over the past year. We want to thank Eric for not just building a great racing program, but for his commitment to the community, region and state.”

“I'm honored that Mr. Cella and his family have the confidence to make me General Manager,” Smith said. “I'm humbled and honored. Eric and the Cella family have created a jewel in the South for both racing and gaming. I'm so thankful to have had the last year to learn the business and I'm confident we can continue to grow what Eric and his team have built.”

Smith, who was named Assistant General Manager last March, brought a broad range of experience to Oaklawn that included accounting, finance, regulatory compliance, hospitality, racing and gaming, all at the highest levels. A native of Rhode Island and graduate of Northeastern University in Boston, Smith began his career in corporate accounting and finance with ITT Sheraton before taking similar positions with MGM Grand and Caesar's Entertainment. He subsequently moved into operations, first with Empire City Racing and Gaming in New York and then Penn Gaming in Illinois.

“When we began the search, we wanted ability and experience, but also put an emphasis on personality because this person needed to embrace our culture,” Jackson said. “Wayne has made a seamless transition. Over the last year, he has gained an appreciation for why racing comes first. Oaklawn has always had very strong relationships with the horsemen, the racing commission and the Hot Springs community. Wayne is the right person to preserve and protect and grow these relationships.”

“The horsemen seemed thrilled with him,” Arkansas Racing Commission Chairman Alex Lieblong said. “I have not heard one negative comment about him and that's hard to do in this business. He's been wonderful in my dealings with him, but what is even more telling is that I'm hearing the same thing from the horsemen.”

As he has gotten to know the racing side of the business, Smith has been most impressed with the crowds and the support Oaklawn gets from around the state.

“For me the biggest thing has been seeing just how vested all Arkansans are in racing and how much they support racing,” Smith said. “The age of our fans is much younger than I had ever experienced. Outside of the three Triple Crown races, you don't see the crowds and the enthusiasm for racing as you see here. I wasn't expecting that.”

“I like the fact that he's spent a lot of time asking questions,” said trainer Ron Moquett, an Arkansas native and one of Oaklawn's leading trainers. “With his position, he could have come in and said, ‘We're doing it my way,' but he's adopted the Oaklawn way. That's important to us horsemen.”

“He's obviously very knowledgeable in gaming, but he seems like a quick study on racing,” said former National H.B.P.A. and Arkansas H.B.P.A. President Bill Walmsley. “He has a good disposition and should have a good relationship with the horsemen. He has big shoes to fill. I have always thought the world of Eric Jackson and he strikes me as having the ability to fill those shoes.”

Smith and his wife, Audrey, have two sons, Riley, 18, and Dylan, 7. He has become an active member of the Hot Springs community and is currently serving on the Board for 50 For the Future and the Airport Master Plan Committee.

“As we welcome Wayne into his new position, we also want to thank Eric and his wife, Lynda, for their devotion to Oaklawn these last 39 years,” Charles Cella said. “We are in the position we are today because of Eric and the team he built.”

Not only is Oaklawn one of the country's leading Thoroughbred racing centers, it is the #1 tourist destination in Arkansas and a major agri-business economic generator, particularly in Central Arkansas.

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