Louisiana Awaits Feasibility Study on Racing Expansion

by Hector San Miguel

The Louisiana Racing Commission will take action Aug. 16 on a feasibility study to determine if the state needs more racetracks. There are four now, but plans have been floated for three more.

Racing commissioner Payton Covington said he doesn't believe the state can support any more racetracks. Currently, they are Delta Downs near Vinton, Louisiana Downs in Bossier City, Evangeline Downs near Lafayette, and Fair Grounds in New Orleans.

"We've got four tracks, and you look at states with much more population than what we have got, they don't have any more tracks than that," he said.

The House of Representatives asked the commission in a resolution to do the study before it issued any more licenses for tracks. The legislative action came after the racing commission learned of plans to build three new tracks in the state.

They are:

- Former Delta Downs owner Shawn Scott wants to build a multi-million Quarter Horse track and slot-machine parlor near Johnson Bayou in Cameron Parish on the Gulf Coast and Texas border. It would compete with Delta Downs.

- Former Fair Grounds owner Louie Roussel has filed a proposal to build a Quarter Horse track in Greenwood west of Shreveport and Louisiana Downs. It would employ 400 people and have 1,400 to 1,500 slot machines.

- Horizon Mortgage Co. of Sarasota, Fla., has expressed interest in building a Quarter Horse track near Crowley in Acadia Parish.

Commission officials informed all three parties that no new applications for tracks would be considered until the feasibility study is completed.

The House resolution urges the racing commission "to study the feasibility, practicality, and impact of licensing additional racing facilities to conduct live horse racing within the boundaries of the state, specifically considering the potential legal and economic ratifications of such additions."

It asks the commission to "carefully consider the economic viability of any additional racing facility in light of the marked expansion of gaming activities in the state and neighboring states in the last several years."

The commission is also asked to look at the "decline in the requests for and number of racing days over the last 10 years, and more specifically, the decline in requests for the total number of racing days for 2002-2003 by the four licensed Louisiana racing associations."

The resolution also asks the commission to seek a legal opinion from the state attorney general on whether proposals for new tracks have to follow a state law regarding proximity. The law requires that an off-track betting facility located within a 55-mile radius of an existing racetrack must first obtain written permission from the existing track in order to get a license.

The commission is asked to seek an opinion as to whether any new racing facilities located within the 55-mile radius of another track would be considered an additional off-track wagering facility.

Once the feasibility study is completed, the commission is requested to report its findings and recommendations to several legislative committees prior to the beginning of the regular legislative session next year.

The commission is also asked to "suspend granting any additional licenses for new racing facilities until the legislature has been granted adequate time to thoroughly review the commission's findings, and make any necessary legislative changes during the 2003 regular session regarding the addition of new racetracks in the state."