Commission Wants Head Tax from Delta Downs

by Hector San Miguel

The Louisiana Racing Commission is at odds with Delta Downs over the racetrack's refusal to pay a little-known head tax. Racing commissioners want Delta Downs to pay 25 cents for each patron that enters its doors for horse racing or to play slot machines.

Officials at Boyd Racing, which owns the Vinton, La., track, contend that the slots parlor is not part of the track, so they don't have to pay the head tax. The slots parlor opened Feb. 13.

The dispute will be the main topic at the March 8 meeting of the racing commission in New Orleans. Commissioners are considering pulling the employee licenses of Delta Downs general manager Jack Bernsmeir, along with two of his top accounting employees, according to a copy of the meeting notice.

Racing commissioners will also discuss a petition for declaratory order filed by Delta Downs in response to an administrative action from the commission against the track.

Boyd spokesman Rob Stillwell said the company would have no comment until the racing commission meeting.

Racing commissioner Payton Covington said there is a state law that requires racetracks to pay a head tax to the commission for each patron. "We are in dispute with (Boyd) because it was written back when you just had racing," Covington said. "It was amended a little later on to cover (off-track betting) admissions."

Covington said Boyd's argument not to pay the head tax is "that it doesn't cover people going there for the slot machines. We are saying it covers everybody that goes in. You cannot tell when you are there who is going to gamble or who is going to play the races."

Covington said the reason the commission is looking at pulling the employee licenses of Bernsmeir and the two accounting employees is because they were suppose to provide attendance reports. The commission has also filed an administrative action against the track for not filing the attendance reports. It was served on Boyd, which in turn filed the declaratory order petition.

Delta Downs doesn't have turnstiles at the four entrances leading into its 15,000-square-foot slots parlor. "That's what worries me about this thing -- having to keep count, and having to rely on that type of situation," Covington said.

Boyd has agreed to install turnstiles, he said.

The initial attendance estimate for opening day of the slots parlor was 5,000 to 7,000, but Covington said the figure may have been 15,000.

The state Gaming Control Board shut down the slots parlor Feb. 22 because of unaccounted money, illegal jackpot payoffs, underage gamblers, and lack of casino surveillance. Boyd Racing corrected the problems the same day and reopened the parlor later that night.