Delta Downs Hopes to Continue Hitting 'Jackpot'

by Hector San Miguel

Not content to just offer a $1-million race, Delta Downs Racetrack & Casino is looking for ways to promote the stakes and its wagering business both on and off track.

The Delta Jackpot for 2-year-olds was inaugurated in 2002 with a $500,000 purse, but the pot was increased to $1 million last year. The stakes, previously held on a Friday night, will move to Saturday night, Dec. 4, with an earlier post time.

"We are going to do it on a Saturday this year," Delta Downs general manager Jack Bernsmeier said. "We haven't done a Saturday before. And we are going to do it a little bit earlier in the day. The hope is that we get a good balance between the folks on the East Coast and the folks on the West Coast."

The Delta Downs signal is available at many wagering outlets, including those in Nevada, New Jersey, and New York. The Vinton, La., racetrack has been able to attract better horses for its races through larger purses funded by revenue from slot machines. As a result, the track has seen an increase in its overall handle.

During the track's 2003-04 Thoroughbred meet that ended in late March, total handle was up 32% to more than $115 million. Bernsmeier said the track's first full year of operation with slots in 2002, compared to the first partial year in 2001, showed a "pretty dramatic" increase in handle.

"Now that we are in our third year, we are still seeing some nice increases but the momentum is a little bit slower than it was before," he said. "Last year, we finally got into Nevada, which is a big deal for a racetrack because then you are in all of races sports books. We are in 45 sites now in Nevada. We are also in Atlantic City, which was a big deal for us. We got into (New York City Off-Track Betting Corp.) a year ago, which is a huge piece of business for us, too."

Bernsmeier said OTB parlors may be limited on the number of races they can show, so Delta Downs is ahead of the game. "It's difficult process," he said. "This track was originally built more for Quarter Horse racing then anything else. And then Thoroughbred racing came along some time later. It's a small track and we are not in a huge population center like Houston or Dallas.

"It's a different kind of marketing battle to get into some of these other (out-of-state) sites. Doing things like the (Delta Jackpot) help you get on the map."