Slots boosts Dover Downs purses

Apr 1, 2008 7:00 PM

by Ray Poirier | "Man, have you seen the size of the purses being offered by Dover Downs?" a local horse player recently asked.

"The purses are fantastic. Why a $6,500 claimer can race for a $7,500 purse," he remarked.

Not too many years ago, at racetracks the size of Dover Downs, the purse for that class of racer would have been closer to one-third that amount. But Dover Downs Inc. (DDE) no longer operates a little country racetrack. Now, itís a gaming complex with dreams of becoming something akin to a Caesars Palace country cousin.

Revenues from the slot machines have provided the cash to beef up the racing purses but itís the vision of major domo Ed Sutor, who once draped his 6-foot-8 basketball playing frame in Caesarsí pinstripes.

To enhance the attractiveness of its modern hotel, Sutor says Dover Downs is building a 70,000 square foot Colonnade shopping facility, that will bring high end names to the area. Already booked are shops by Gucci and Godiva.

In addition to the shopping place, the Colonnade will have 500 slot machines, three new restaurants, and a circular bar with special lighting effects.

Rich Werz, the companyís senior director of design and construction, said there will be circular surfaces and arched architectural details soaring above the intricate patterns of the tiles floors. At the center of the new Fire and Ice Lounge, a crystal sculpture will combine images of flame and melting ice.

"As far as a geometric project, itís the most complex Iíve ever been involved in," said Werz.

Not bad for a former little racetrack whose record attendance is less than 6,000 fans. But thanks to those slots, the horsemen can laugh all the way to the bank.

Too bad, shareholders canít do the same. In recent weeks, the share price has not been able to crack the $10 mark.