by Hector San Miguel
Former Delta Downs owner Shawn Scott wants to build a $25-million racetrack in New Mexico and take over a financially troubled Standardbred track in New York. Both facilities would be in line for slot machines and video lottery terminals.
Scott bought the Delta Downs, located in Vinton, La., for $10 million in 1999. He was able to convince Calcasieu Parish voters to allow for slot machines at the track, and then sold the operation to Boyd Gaming in 2001 for more than $130 million.
Scott is now banking on racetrack casinos in Hobbs, N.M., and Vernon, N.Y. The proposed New Mexico track, called Lea Downs, can have up to 300 slot machines. Vernon Downs in upstate New York has a pending application for 500 VLTs.
A licensing hearing for Lea Downs was held April 16-17 in Albuquerque. On April 18, hearings were scheduled to begin for other applicants: Zia Park Racetrack & Casino, and Cleopatra's Racetrack & Casino. R.D. Hubbard and Bruce Rimbo of Ruidoso Downs in New Mexico submitted the Zia Park application last September.
The New Mexico Racing Commission will license only one applicant. Scott filed his application about a year ago to build Lea Downs and has opened an office in Hobbs. He owns about 300 acres in the eastern New Mexico town.
The new track would provide 1,200 new stalls, a year-round training facility with "ultramodern, all-weather barns," and a turf track. New Mexico currently has no grass racing.
In an April 11 letter sent to horsemen in New Mexico and western Texas, Scott wrote: "I love racing, and I want to be the horse that wins this race. The Lea Downs that I dream of is a state-of-the-art entertainment facility complete with modern racing facilities, great restaurants, and a multiplex theater. Our racing facility will set a new standard for the New Mexico horse racing industry."
Scott has faced some criticism from anti-gambling groups and others who say he merely wants a slot-machine facility. Under New Mexico law, tracks are allowed to have up to 300 slot machines. There has been a move to change the law to allow tracks to have an unlimited number of slots, and even table games.
Ken Newton, former owner of Santa Fe Downs, filed the application Cleopatra's Racetrack and Casino. The application was filed under the name Saddlebrook Park. There were initially four applications, but Stan Fulton, owner of Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino near El Paso, Texas, withdrew his application. He wanted his proposed racetrack, Gateway Park, to be located just east of Hobbs.
Meanwhile, Vernon Downs, located east of Syracuse in New York, is $6 million in debt, according to the New York State Racing and Wagering Board. Scott offered to loan the track $8.5 million at 15% interest. The two-year loan would have also given Scott's financial group a controlling interest in the facility.
When the board issued Vernon Downs a conditional 90-day license for live harness racing and simulcasting, it said Scott had to undergo a background check. Scott must meet the conditions to be an investor.
In addition, Scott and his partners must refrain from trying to manage the track or "directly or indirectly contacting or influencing track officers until he gains a license," the board said.
Vernon Downs and Scott must meet the conditions by July 6 or face a shutdown. Also, the board has found "regulatory compliance issues surrounding" Scott's suitability.
"We will investigate Shawn Scott...and his ability to be licensed," said Michael Hoblock, chairman of the racing and wagering board. "If something is found next week or next month or on the 89th day that disqualifies Mr. Scott or his representatives, this license will be terminated."
The New York legislature approved a plan last year to allow for VLTs at most racetracks in the state. The state Lottery Division is reviewing the track's application.
In a news release, Scott said Vernon Downs has "tremendous potential--in our view, better than other tracks around the country."
Vernon Downs, which has hosted some of the top trotters and pacers in harness racing over the years, competes with an Indian casino located not far away. The track has a hotel on its property.