Delta Downs Continues on Expansion Track

Delta Downs Racetrack & Casino recently unveiled its 10-story hotel as part of the finishing touches of a $60-million expansion project. Another project at the Vinton, La., racetrack--conversion of the racing surface to one mile and addition of a turf course--remains on the drawing board but faces some challenges.

The hotel will open to the public April 2. It offers 203 rooms and includes 33 suites. Each room allows in-room betting on either live or simulcast races. Many of the rooms face the racetrack.

The latest project at the facility owned by Boyd Gaming includes an entertainment lounge, an expanded slot-machine parlor with wider aisles, a new simulcast area, a remodeled buffet, an 850-seat event center, and a food court.

"This is not the end of what we want to achieve here in Vinton," Delta Downs general manager Jack Bernsmeier said. "We do have some other plans. We have a master plan we have been working on."

Bernsmeier said the master plan "includes the possibility of two more hotel wings" that would offer a total of 600 rooms.

As for the racing product, Bernsmeier said: "We also have been working for quite a long time and have planning in place to do a track expansion. Often we are asked that we don't forget racing. We certainly are never going to do that."

Delta Downs has a three-quarter-mile dirt track with a long homestretch chute that accommodates one-mile races and Quarter Horse races. The master plan calls for a one-mile track with turf course inside of it.

"There is a lot of enthusiasm for the track expansion but that's a very complicated piece of business for many reasons," Bernsmeier said. "One of them is the timing of it. We run both the Thoroughbred meet and the Quarter Horse meet. For the last several years, we have only had about six weeks between meets.

"Let's say we decided to do that next year. We would have to make that decision by probably early summer or late spring this year to change the dates for the meets to allow us to build it. We would end up with having to go dark with racing for probably four to five months.

"There are a lot of strategic pieces to be able to do that. I think there is a lot of enthusiasm. It's probably the right thing to do."

Louisiana's three other racetracks all have one-mile dirt tracks and seven-furlong turf courses. The new Evangeline Downs will hold its first Thoroughbred meet beginning April 7. At the old facility, racing was held on a seven-furlong track.

State Rep. Ronnie Johns attended the hotel ribbon cutting. He was one of the state legislators that authored the bill a few years ago to create racetrack slots parlors.

"We did this to help save the horse racing industry throughout Louisiana," Johns said. "It has worked incredibly well. We are seeing horse stables open up all over. This has gone way beyond our wildest dreams.

We knew there would be a casino. We knew a part of the proceeds would go to the horsemen and the purses. That was our intent. But to see what has been built (at Delta Downs) is absolutely phenomenal. It has been a true success story."