Packed House Greets Slots at Delta Downs

by Hector San Miguel

Hundreds of eager gamblers lined up Wednesday outside Delta Downs in Vinton, La., to gamble in its new 1,500-machine slots parlor. Boyd Gaming, the track's owner, officially opened the large casino after months of legal snags and delays and an investment of more than $165 million.

Vehicles from Texas lined the road for miles leading to the racetrack entrance. Gamblers arrived as early as 9 a.m. (CDT) even though the casino was not scheduled to be open until 1 p.m. The parking lot, which holds 1,950 vehicles, was full by 2 p.m.

Caroline Albert, 49, of Port Arthur, Texas, was one of the first gamblers who scrambled through the casino's front door when it opened. "I think this is nice," she said. "It looks real good. I hope I win."

Alfred has made gambling trips to riverboat casinos in nearby Lake Charles, La., but said she came to Delta Downs because "it's closer and only 30 minutes away."

Track supporter and horseman Jack Hebert was allowed to make the first pull on a nickel machine. He hit a $10 jackpot much to the delight of onlookers.

Earlier in the day, Bill Boyd, chairman of Boyd Gaming, and Jack Bernsmeier, Delta Downs' general manager, held a news conference to announce the opening of the company's 12th casino. Elected officials, business people, and horsemen attended.

"This is a great day," Boyd said. "We are really excited about the potential and the future that we all have here in Vinton and Calcasieu Parish."

Delta Downs opened for live racing in November, and is in the midst of its mixed meet. Slot machines will allow the track to offer more amenities, Boyd said.

"We think that the marriage is going to be just great, and we look forward to doing many good things here in the future," he said.

The operation is the first racetrack-based slots casino to open in the state. It offers 1,492 slot machines on 14,991 square feet of space. The track has hired nearly 1,200 employees. Boyd said a hotel is under consideration.

State Rep. Ronnie Johns said he remembered "all of the perseverance that all of us went through because we truly believed in what we were doing for the horsemen."

Johns, along with Sen. Don Cravins, co-authored the state legislation in 1997 that allowed racetracks to have slot machines to generate money for purses.

"This will be the most heavily taxed form of gaming in the entire state," Johns said. "But what's phenomenal is the first 18% off the top goes to the horsemen, and that's our reason for doing this."

Slot machines at Delta Downs are expected to generate from $110 million to $124 million a year. Louisiana Downs in Shreveport, and Evangeline Downs in Lafayette were both approved for slot machines as well. Louisiana Downs is moving forward with its plans, but Evangeline Downs must move to nearby St. Landry Parish on a 540-acre tract before it can open its slots parlor.

Cravins said he hopes groundbreaking for the new Evangeline Downs will occur this year.