Louisiana Downs, Evangeline Projects Progress

by Hector San Miguel

A development group that wants to purchase Louisiana Downs in Bossier City hopes to close on the deal by July and spend $150 million renovating and expanding the facility. Meanwhile, progress has been reported on plans for the new Evangeline Downs.

That's according to Shreveport, La., attorney Jim Davis, the group's lead investor. He addressed the Louisiana Racing Commission at its meeting the week of April 22. Davis and his other major partner, Winston Capital of Dallas, Texas, are undergoing Louisiana State Police background checks.

"We are very excited about purchasing Louisiana Downs," Davis told the commission. "There will be no major changes in the racing operation other than improving the racing operation as we move forward with the project."

Davis said group hasn't said a lot about its plans because since this past November it has been under a general letter of intent to acquire the track.

"It has taken quite a few months to get a final purchase agreement," Davis said. "It was executed on April 3. We got approval from the gaming control board to go through the suitability process. We are actually just starting the process now."

Davis said he hopes to have Louisiana Gaming Control Board approval of its license to operate a slot-machine parlor at the track within 60 days. The board has already approved the track's floor plan for the slots parlor.

"We should be able to close by July," Davis said. "We have some great plans for the track with phase one being about $150 million. The total includes the acquisition."

The renovations at the track include expansion of the track's first floor to accommodate the slots parlor. There are plans to add a 325-room hotel with convention facilities, a 1,200-square-foot ballroom, a 1,500-seat theater, and a recreational vehicle park. The plans also call for converting 30 adjacent acres into a permanent festival marketplace.

The expansion work at Louisiana Downs will generate more than 1,000 jobs, according to track officials.

"We want to have all types of different events there in association with the racetrack," Davis said. "We are doing things to make this a destination site. On the racing side itself, we have actually put into the budget an estimated $5 million for immediate track improvements."

The racing commission said Davis needed to get its approval for the track sale before its gets the go-ahead for a slots parlor from the gaming control board. Davis said he would consult with his attorney to figure out what the correct procedure is in getting proper approvals before the purchase of the racetrack is finalized.

In another development, officials with Peninsula Gaming told the commission they hope to break ground on the new Evangeline Downs later this year. The new track will be built on a site in St. Landry Parish, where slot-machine gaming at racetracks is legal.

Once construction begins, the track and slots parlor would be completed within 24 months. Options have been signed for the land where the track will be built.

Peninsula Gaming has agreed to buy a 50% interest in Evangeline Downs from B.I. Moody, one of the track owners. Evangeline Downs, located near Lafayette, just opened for its 2002 Thoroughbred meet.