Evangeline Downs Gets Early Christmas Present

by Hector San Miguel

The slot machines parlor at Evangeline Downs in Opelousas, La., opened Dec. 19 even though the facility won't offer live horse racing until 2005. The 2004 meet will be held at the existing Evangeline Downs in Carencro, about 10 miles south of the new site.

The track, owned by Peninsula Gaming, is relocating its entire facility seven years after voters in St. Landry Parish, where Opelousas is located, approved racetrack slots. The new Evangeline Downs is the first racino built from the ground up in the United States.

Evangeline Downs is the third racetrack in the Louisiana to add slot machines. The others are Delta Downs in Vinton and Louisiana Downs in Bossier City. They are both located close to the Texas-Louisiana border. Fair Grounds in New Orleans received voter approval this year for slots but still needs several other approvals before it can open its racino.

Evangeline Downs held a sneak preview Dec. 17 for the news media and 1,000 invited guests to try the racino's restaurants and get a first look at the slots parlor. Security guards kept people out of the parlor, but the machines could be seen through wrought iron fence that surrounds most of the parlor.

"It takes vision and experience to create what we are building in Opelousas," Mike Luzich, president of Peninsula Gaming, said Dec. 18. "Our vision is to revolutionize the gaming/entertainment industry. It is such an architecturally interesting structure."

The 60,000-square-foot slots parlor has 1,627machines and will be open seven days a week, 24 hours a day. There is parking for 2,000 vehicles. The facility contains a six-outlet food court, 200-seat sports bar with a 100-seat outdoor patio, 350-seat buffet restaurant, an 80-seat fine-dining restaurant, and a 1,200-square-foot gift shop. The casino has a 110-seat bar in its center.

The gross revenue from the slots will be used to fund purses at the Carencro track in 2004, then shifted to the new track the following year. Jim Lord of KGA Architecture in Las Vegas said his firm designed the racino complex and the track's grandstand, which is still under construction.

"This is the first racino in the whole country that is designed from the ground up with integration of a horse track and gaming establishment as opposed to modifying existing tracks to put gaming within them," Lord said.

The racino design is said to incorporate a southern Louisiana Cajun roadhouse theme on the exterior, with a complementary regional Acadian atmosphere on the interior.

Lord said the company also is designing the grandstand/clubhouse, which will have seating for 1,450 patrons and apron and patio space for an additional 3,000 patrons.