Lousiana Downs: Across the board!
by – Scott ” Shooter” Anderson
Louisiana Downs Casino and Racetrack might replace “First Call” with “Everything Old is New Again” as its call to post. That’s because the new ownership and management team at Bossier City’s horse racing venue is preserving its history while looking to a bigger, brighter future. Louisiana Downs operates as a racino -a combination of a racetrack and a casino. It opened in 1974 with approximately 15,000 fans in attendance for the first day of its inaugural meet. In its glory days throughout the 1970s and ’80s, it set numerous national records for handle and attendance.
Rubico Acquisition bought the property in November from Caesars Entertainment. Rubico President Kevin Preston felt he had found a diamond in the rough. “Going into any kind of business, you are looking for opportunities,” he said. “The track had been neglected for a long time. Going into it, understanding how we operate, we knew if we could put our culture in there, especially where it’s located, it was good opportunity to bring it back to life.” Preston had one goal in mind with the purchase of the racetrack: putting the race back in racino. Through the years, the focus became to drive the market dollars to the casino and not to the racetrack side. The new owners are looking forward to new glory days as they reintroduce the property and horse racing in general to a new audience. “We are not only excited, but proud to have a venue that appeals to multiple interests,” Preston said. “We are very much investing in both our racing and casino assets and look forward to elevating both.” Preston has been in the casino business since 1992. While this is his first venture into racetrack ownership, he is no stranger to horse racing. “It’s always been something that intrigued me,” he said. “When I was young, growing up in Chicago, my dad took me to the tracks. I fell in love with the sport. I have a passion for it. I knew if, at some point, there was an opportunity, I would take advantage of it. Even before owning the track, we would go to racetracks and enjoy everything about it. So, while I am a casino guy, I enjoy the racing side of it as well.”
The Rubico team has been renovating the facility to create a more engaging and inviting atmosphere. Louisiana Downs added a Sportsbook, is replacing almost 100 slot machines with more modern games and adding 50 Historic Horse Racing machines. HHR ma-chines are a game of skill that simulate historic races. Louisiana Downs also runs an OTB & Casino venue in Mound, LA, that has added 50 HHR machines with plans to add four additional OTB Casinos soon. The balance between the racing operations and the casino operations is essential to create a healthy life cycle in the Louisiana Downs ecosystem. People play the slot machines and soon to be HHR machines and that play directly affects horse racing. For good consistent purses, people must be play-ing in the casino.
Louisiana Downs also is expanding the on-site dining options, which had dwindled to only Fuddruckers’ before Rubico took ownership. For the first time since 2019, the third-floor clubhouse level is being used. While it is not yet open all four days of racing, the plan is to open and expand the offering with increased demand. Box seats are open for reservation each Saturday, holiday weekends, and special event dates as well. The Clubhouse buffet, previously the Pelican Room, is also open for special event days such as Preakness, Belmont, and Louisiana Cup Day. “The team here has worked hard to reinvent the cur-rent food and beverage offerings,” said Andrea Butler, director of marketing. “While we feel we have made our customers happy, we are more than ready to be able to share with you all our two new food ventures coming very soon.”
Another key factor in their success is getting people out to the race-track. “A lot of people are coming back to the track to see the things we have done,” Preston said. “They are coming back to the races be-cause someone is pay-ing attention again.” The track has hosted a number of events to draw those crowds, from Exotic Animal races, live music, and cornhole tournaments, to a movie night, face-painting, and other family-friendly activities including the fan favorite Wiener Dog races on Labor Day. That’s how
the track hopes to convert first-time vis-itors into repeat customers. “We love the energy of our customers,” Butler said. “Bringing back family days was a priority at the start of this race meet. We wanted to show our commu-nity that we supported them and want-ed to see them enjoy their weekends with us.”
With all the new, the track hasn’t forgot-ten about its regulars, who have noticed more than the crowds. “They have no-ticed things like Race Replay Drawings — a program where bettors enter their losing tickets into a drawing to recoup the lost bet,” Butler said.
Preston said the employees have also taken notice. “We’ve got team members who have been here 30 or 40 years who wanted someone to come in and care about the track,” he said. Uniting the racing and casino sides of the operation again was a key step.
“The biggest thing is getting team members together,” Preston said. “They felt separation between the two sides. We are bringing everybody together. All our meetings are together now. Every-body’s in the same room, addressing the same issues.”
And that’s not all. The new management team has improved the racing and back-side operations for the horsemen and guests. Improvements are far larger than what the general population can see at first glance such as new paint, updated signage, and new features like their upgraded Finish Line poles. They have also completely renovated the backside kitchen area with updated appliances and a recreation area with new TVs and a pool table for the horsemen. Areas like the Test Barn have also been updated. Ownership also has collaborated closely with consultants to evaluate and analyze the conditions of the turf and dirt courses to ensure the surfaces are the safest possible for the horsemen and horses. Improving Louisiana Downs will not only improve things for the local horsemen, the regulars, and newcomers, but it will help improve horse racing throughout Louisiana. “At the end of the day, I stand behind my statements from the beginning,” Preston said. “We are here for the people. For our guests, our team members, and our community. Progress takes time, and it doesn’t come without its hurdles, but we stay committed to restoring Louisiana Downs to its iconic being and hope that we continue to serve everyone well.”
The handle at a racetrack is the total amount bet on the races. The handle is up this season at Louisiana Downs, Preston said. “Everything is gauged by the handle on the racing side,” Preston said. “Handle has been up, which is great. We have to keep customers com-ing and entertained.”
It’s a sign things are moving in the right direction, Preston said, to make Louisiana Downs once again “the place to race,” like it was in its heyday, when cars lined the road outside the property waiting to get in. “We may not get it back to what it was in the 90s, but we are going to give it our best shot,” Preston said. “Even if we get it halfway back, it’ll be something special.”
Photos: Hodges Photography