Delta Downs Slots Bring In $1.4M for Purses in 16 Days

by Hector San Miguel

Louisiana's first "racino" at Delta Downs generated nearly $8 million in revenue in just 16 days of operation in February, and attracted more than 134,000 patrons, according to state police figures released March 20 at the Louisiana Gaming Control Board meeting. In February alone, $1.42 million was generated for purses at the Vinton track.

Meanwhile, Fair Grounds, which cannot have slot machines under state law, is working to get that changed. The New Orleans track reportedly will attempt to do so during a special legislative session that begins the week of March 25 in Baton Rouge, the state capital.

The 24-hour slot-machine parlor at Delta Downs opened Feb. 13. A daily average of 8,000 people passed through the doors, and the average win was $59 per patron for 1,500 machines. The numbers are good news for Delta Downs owner Boyd Racing, which is counting on success. Boyd bought the track last year for $130.1 million, and spent another $35 million renovating it.

"We are very encouraged about our results at Delta Downs, and look forward to building on that success," said Rob Stillwell, a spokesman for Boyd Racing.

Two other Louisiana tracks -- Evangeline Downs and Louisiana Downs -- have been approved for slots. At its meeting, the Gaming Control Board learned it will probably be at least two years before slot machines go online at Louisiana Downs in Bossier City; Evangeline Downs near Lafayette has to move to nearby St. Landry Parish before it can offer gaming.

The Peninsula Gaming Co., which owns the Diamond Jo riverboat casino in Dubuque, Iowa, announced last month it wants to acquire 50% interest in Evangeline Downs for $15 million. Once the acquisition is completed, the company plans to spend $90 million to build a new racetrack and 1,525-machine slots parlor in St. Landry Parish.

The biggest surprise at Delta Downs was that it didn't severely impact the four riverboat casinos in nearby Lake Charles. A check of February gross revenue figures on the state's riverboat casinos shows the four boats took in $30.7 million, up 12% from January. Overall attendance last month at all four boats was 568,069.

Compared to figures from February 2001, the riverboats had a slight drop of about $200,000 in gross revenue, and a 14,650 decline in attendance.

Delta Downs is much closer to the Texas border than the riverboat casinos. The riverboats'customer base is primarily from the Houston, Texas, area. Harrah's and the Isle of Capri each operate two riverboat casinos on Lake Charles. Both companies have said Delta Downs would cut into their slot-machine revenue by 18% to 25%. (Slots are the casinos' biggest revenue-generator.)

Calcasieu Parish residents are scheduled to vote April 6 on whether to allow Pinnacle Entertainment to build a $225-million casino resort in Lake Charles. It will include a 20-story hotel, 18-hole championship golf course, and the state's largest riverboat casino. (Delta Downs is located in Calcasieu Parish.)

Earlier in March, the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs rejected a gaming compact signed by Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster that would have allowed the Jena Band of Choctaw Indians to build a $300-million casino in Vinton.