‘Mall King’s’ dream ends

September 03, 2002 9:43 AM
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It was in the late ’60s that a Louisiana developer ran out of money while building a racetrack in Bossier City, La., and the project appeared doomed. That is, until the "Mall King" heard about it.

Ed DeBartolo, Sr., who enjoyed delving into the world of sports while developing the reputation as America’s most successful builder of shopping malls, immediately flew to Shreveport to inspect the site of the incomplete horse track. He liked what he saw and took over the property and saw it to completion.

Racing was not a new activity for DeBartolo. The Ohioan already owned Thistle Down near Cleveland and later built Remington Park in Oklahoma. Of course, his other claim to sports fame was his ownership of the San Francisco 49ers.

Once the track was completed, DeBartolo installed a first-class management team and watched Louisiana Downs become the most successful racetrack of the 1970’s. But, Ed Senior passed on and his son and daughter, Ed Junior and Denise took over. Things went well until riverboat casino legislation was passed in Louisiana and that state’s tracks watched their business dwindle. Ed Junior even made the serious mistake of paying off politicians to get a riverboat license, an effort that resulted in a felony conviction and the loss of control of the 49ers football team.

For months, Louisiana Downs has been on the auction block and last week, Harrah’s Entertainment Inc. (HET) said it was forming a joint venture with a local group to acquire the track. Plans call for the installation of 1,500 slot machines and the opening of a "racino" by the summer of 2003.