Racing commission sets minimum standards for state tracks

MORE THAN NUMBERS: The Louisiana Racing Commission wants video capability added to the Louisiana Downs tote board. (Photo courtesy Louisiana Downs)

By TONY TAGLAVORE, Journal Sports

VINTON — At Wednesday’s meeting at the home of Delta Downs Racetrack, Casino, and Hotel, the  Louisiana State Racing Commission received an update on the unaccounted-for horsemen’s purse money discovered at Louisiana Downs this past summer.

That update did not last long.

The Commission was told that the Louisiana Attorney General’s office is still looking into the matter. No specifics were given, and no timetable was shared as to when the issue might be resolved.

However, the Commission acted on other items during the approximately six-hour meeting.

Notably, it passed parts of House Bill 1055. In this year’s legislative session, Governor John Bel Edwards gave the Commission power to introduce and enforce minimum standards for each of the state’s four racetracks. Those standards cover everything from infrastructure, to staffing, to marketing.

“Anything that needs improving, we put it on the list to improve,” said commission member Mike McHalffey, who represents Bossier Parish. “We got with (the tracks). It’s not like we’re forcing them to do anything. We suggested it. ‘Is that OK? Yes.’ It is or it’s not. In most cases, it is. They know it needed to be done.”

One area of particular importance to McHalffey is improving the living conditions for backside workers.

“We’re making (the tracks) build dorms that are up to living standards,” McHalffey said. (People) were living in sub-standard housing on the backside for a long time. It’s time to upgrade. Of course, the (corporate owners) don’t want to upgrade, so we gave them a little boost. We’re going to make them upgrade the dorms and build dorms.”

That means renovations are coming to 48-year-old Louisiana Downs.

“They have a barn in the back called the Stakes Barn,” McHalffey said. “It hasn’t been used in years. It has some pretty good dorm rooms. They’re going to remodel that barn and use it.”

That’s not the only area of the Bossier City track which will receive attention. “They’re going to redo the interior of all the stalls,” McHalffey said. “They’re going to do some road work and some drainage work.”

Louisiana Downs will also have to improve its tote board — more than applying a coat of white paint, which was done earlier this year.

“They will have to upgrade it to video capability,” McHalffey said. “You can spend two million (dollars), or you can spend $200,000 and put a video screen up there. We have to approve it, though.”

The Commission also wants to make sure each track is spending what’s needed to make it — and the sport — attractive to the public.

“They have to show a marketing plan,” McHalffey said. “Every meet, I have to approve the marketing plan. I asked all the tracks for marketing numbers, and I want marketing numbers split for casino and racetrack. ‘How much money are you spending on each? How do you think it impacts what you’re doing?’”

Each track has a monetary incentive to abide by the Commission’s mandates.

“Ten percent of their profits after taxes goes into escrow, and they have to keep a $3-million balance,” McHalffey explained. “If we don’t approve the project that we’ve asked them to do, we keep their money until they do. We won’t release it.”

In an effort to increase revenue — and purse money — Louisiana Downs is installing Historical Horseracing Machines (HHR), and wants to open several off-track betting sites. McHalffey has asked track management to present a plan within 30 days.

“We’re making them go forward with that and not drag their feet.”

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