Louisiana Downs Gets OK to Install Slot Machines

by Hector San Miguel

The Louisiana State Gaming Control Board gave its approval Feb. 18 for Harrah's Entertainment to operate slot machines at Louisiana Downs.

Harrah's Bossier City Investment Co., a subsidiary of Harrah's Entertainment, filed the license application last December. It will manage the racino.

The first phase of the project calls for a 900-machine slots parlor to be in operation by May. A second phase calls for construction of a permanent 15,000-square-foot permanent building to house 1,500 machines by May 2004.

Harrah's and the Downs Entertainment Group signed a letter of intent last year to buy the Bossier City racetrack. Harrah's owns 95% and DEG has the remaining 5%. The new company formed by Harrah's and DEG also owns Harrah's Shreveport riverboat casino located nearby.

Harrah's paid $73.25 million to acquire the track. It plans to spend $110 million renovating the facility. The plan calls for $41.5 million to be spent on the first phase of work and another $68.5 million in the second phase.

State police officials said Harrah's Bossier City, once approved for slots, plans to start a major renovation project at Louisiana Downs, which opened in 1974. Jason Russell of the state police said the company would "proceed with a multi-faced venture to include an extensive building construction phase and remodeling the existing structure."

He said Harrah's plans to build a temporary structure on the track's first floor to house 900 machines. "Simultaneous slot-machine gaming and live horse race meets will subsequently commence with the start of the racing season in June," Russell said.

The second phase will include several restaurants and lounges. A third phase calls for construction of a 300-room hotel that will be located adjacent to the racino. Hillary Crain, chairman of the gaming control board, said Harrah's still has to come back before the board for approval of its plans and specifications for the slots parlor.

Harrah's, based in Las Vegas, owns and operates 29 casinos in 13 states. In Louisiana, it operates three riverboat casinos and one land-based casinos. Harrah's is part owner of Turfway Park in Kentucky, and owner and operator of Bluff's Run Greyhound track in Iowa, and Bluegrass Downs in Paducah, Ky.

In other business, the gaming control board approved the floor plans and placement of slot machines at Evangeline Downs, which will eventually move from Lafayette to Opelousas. Construction of a new track is scheduled to begin in March.

Peninsula Gaming, which purchased the track last year, has two years from the day the gaming license was issued to relocate Evangeline Downs from Lafayette Parish to a 520-acre site in nearby St. Landry Parish, where voters approved racetrack slots. Peninsula Gaming wants to open the slots parlor by next February.