Louisiana Legislators Wary of Racetrack Proposals

by Hector San Miguel

Former Delta Downs owner Shawn Scott wants to build a multimillion-dollar racetrack and slot machine parlor in Cameron Parish, just south of Lake Charles. Thoroughbred owner and former Star Riverboat Casino owner Louie Roussel III wants to open a Quarter Horse track in Caddo Parish, not far from Louisiana Downs.

State legislators, meanwhile, have asked the Louisiana State Racing Commission not to issue any more licenses for racetracks. They believe the plans are more about gaming than horse racing.

State Reps. Ronnie Johns and Dan Flavin of Lake Charles said a House resolution would be offered June 10. It was to be co-authored by more than 20 legislators, including Flavin, who represents Cameron Parish.

"We are asking the commission to study the ramifications of further expansion of tracks in the state," Johns said.

The commission would be expected report its findings to the legislature next year.

Scott has reportedly bought 200 acres of land off Route 82 between the Texas border and Johnson Bayou. The track would be about 20 miles closer to Houston, Texas, than Delta Downs in Vinton. Efforts to contact Scott were unsuccessful, but Johns said Scott has already talked to racing commission officials about the Cameron track.

Scott bought Delta Downs in 1999 for $10 million. He sold it for $130.1 million to Boyd Gaming last year after he was able to get voter approval for a 15,000-square-foot slots parlor.

State records show Delta Downs' slots parlor generated more than $32 million in gross revenue in less than three months. Two other tracks in the state--Louisiana Downs and Evangeline Downs--are working to get their slots parlors open.

Johns, who helped draft the legislation allowing racetrack slots, said he would oppose any effort to put a racetrack in Cameron Parish. Also, Johns said he visited personally with Roussel at the state capital to discuss the proposed Caddo track.

"I just was very upfront with him," Johns said. "I told him I was strongly opposed to any more tracks in the state. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that this is just an in-run around to get slot machines. There is no burning need for other tracks.

Johns said he has been approached by horsemen's associations also opposed to the proposed tracks.

There are several hurdles Scott would have to clear before he could even open new track. The racing commission would have to approve a license for the track, which would then need legislative approval for slots and off-track betting. A final approval for slot machines would have to come from the Louisiana Gaming Control Board.

Scott and Roussel would not be able to seek legislation for slots until the regular session in 2002.

Johns said he wouldn't be opposed to Fair Grounds in New Orleans being allowed slot machines because the track has been there for quite some time. Fair Grounds officials are expected to seek legislation to allow for slot machines next year.