Delta Downs Gets Go-Ahead for Slots Parlor

by Hector San Miguel

The Louisiana Gaming Control Board on Tuesday approved a configuration plan for the Delta Downs that will allow nearly 1,500 slot machines. Board members unanimously approved the plan, which also go the go-ahead from the state police and state fire marshal's office.

Boyd Gaming, which owns Delta Downs, hopes to open its slot-machine parlor by mid-February. It has spent $35 million renovating the facility over the last few months.

"We are overjoyed that we had a unanimous approval," said William Boyd, chairman of Boyd Gaming. "We have had the horse racing proceeding at Delta Downs since November, so we are very anxious to integrate that with slot machines. We think that is going to be terrific. We expect to hire about 1,000 employees. We have 600 hired now. I might say we have had them for the last two months doing community service."

The configuration plan allows Boyd to operate 1,494 slot machines in a 14,940-square-foot area as permitted by law. The building where the slots will be located is nearly 66,000 square feet, with the actual casino floor at 40,033 square feet, according to Delta Downs records.

The Vinton, La., racetrack was initially approved for slot machines last October but encountered legal troubles in November when the Isle of Capri, which operates two riverboat casinos in nearby Lake Charles, La., was able to get a court injunction that prevented Boyd's license from going into effect.

Boyd was able to get the injunction lifted after it paid $5.1 million to former track owner Shawn Scott to buy out his remaining interests in the track. That final purchase price for the track to $130.1 million. Scott bought the track in 1999 for $10 million.

Horseman Jack Hebert said he anticipates the daily number of track patrons to increase sharply once the slot machines are on line. Attendance for racing has dropped from 3,500 a day in 1992 to less than 375 in 2000.

"I think you are going to see racing come back to Louisiana," Herbert said. "This is going to help all of southwest Louisiana. I think the riverboats are going to even see their traffic increasing."

Brian Wallace, an attorney for the Isle of Capri, aired opposition during the Tuesday meeting. The company has a pending lawsuit against Boyd over the slots parlor.

"It's not the job of the state police to come up with what the definition of designated gaming space will be," Wallace said. "This board passed a rule that defines how that is supposed to be calculated."

State Sen. Don Cravins of Lafayette, who was instrumental in getting the legislation passed for racetrack slots, commended the state police for figuring out the gaming-space question.