Harrah’s runaway winner at Louisiana Dow

Dec 23, 2002 9:42 PM

Louisiana Downs is now in firm possession of Harrah’s Entertainment, Inc.

The hotel and casino giant now has a 95 percent stake in a company that now owns both Louisiana Downs and Harrah’s Shreveport Hotel and Casino. The remaining five percent is owned by a group of Shreveport/Bossier City area investors.

Current plans call for the state’s largest track to offer approximately 900 slots by the time racing season begins next June. Harrah’s expects to open a new permanent casino facility at Louisiana Downs with about 1,500 slot machines by June 2004.

The property will become the only land-based gaming facility with slots in northern Louisiana. Acquisition and renovation of the track is expected to cost Harrah’s $183 million, a $26 million increase over previous estimates.

"Our plans for Louisiana Downs are ambitious and will make this property one of the finest thoroughbred racing and slot entertainment facilities in the country," said Gary Loveman, president and CEO of Harrah’s. "We expect Louisiana Downs to set a high standard, one that we will follow as we examine potential future development opportunities across the country."

Harrah Entertainment was founded 65 years ago and operates 26 casinos nationwide.

Suffolk Downs next?

The possibility of casino-style gaming in Massachusetts has several operators examining potential sites including Suffolk Downs near Boston.

The Thoroughbred Times.com reports that Hyatt Gaming, which operates 10 casinos, is one of those expressing interest in Suffolk as a possible site for gaming.

Western Massachusetts is also interested in offering gaming and Holyoke has started a casino-sighting commission, and is exploring the possibility of allowing riverboat casinos on the Connecticut River.

The gaming expansion could cause a merger between Suffolk and Wonderland Greyhound Park, according to Business Today.

Uphill fight in Cal

The battle for placing slot machines at California racetracks faces a tougher road than on the East Coast.

"It’s a longshot, but this is something worth pursuing," said John Van de Kemp, president of the Thoroughbred Owners of California. "Other states have them and we need them to stay competitive."

The owners had hoped to have slots in place at the state’s racetracks by 2005. In California, slot machines are the provenance of Indian gaming tribes, which operate under compacts with the state.

The TOC could qualify for an initiative for the next statewide election in March 2004 through a signature-gathering campaign.

One factor in racing’s favor is an estimated $21 billion shortfall this year in the budget.

"The legislature is in desperate need of new revenue sources," Van de Kamp said. "We have some strategies for dealing with the Indians."

Penn limited to slots

The Gov.-elect of Pennsylvania, Ed Rendell, said last week that he wants to bring slot machines to state racetracks, but does not want gambling to find its way to riverboats.

"We ought to put money in slots," Rendell told the Press of Atlantic City, shortly after finishing a joint news conference with New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey. "It’s necessary for property-tax relief."

In New Jersey, the Atlantic City Convention and Visitors Authority expects to take in an additional half-million dollars for its budget next year.

"A lot is happening," said Jeffrey Vasser, the authority’s executive director. "We’re becoming more dynamic, but we’re also facing more competition at the same time."

St. Pete cruising

The St. Petersburg (Fla.) City Council last week unanimously authorized a startup company to run daily gambling cruises from the city’s port.

"The city is assuming very, very little risk," council member John Bryan told the St. Petersburg Times shortly before the 7-0 vote to approve the deal with Titan Cruise Lines.

Titan and funding partner Brigadoon Capital Partners expect to create some 350 jobs and lease three top floors of the downtown Bank of America tower.

The ship, to be called the Spirit of St. Petersburg, will have an all U.S. crew, but will be registered as a Panamanian ship. The cruises could begin within three months.

The trip from the Port of St. Petersburg to international waters will take less than two hours, leaving about 4½ hours of an eight-hour cruise for gambling.