05/05/2006 12:00AM

Booming business - and it's just for starters


A year ago, David Yount, the executive director of racing operations at Evangeline Downs, was sitting in his sparkling new clubhouse a month into the facility's inaugural season, and said: "Our goal is to be Louisiana's leading racetrack."

The remark was greeted with skepticism in some circles, with both Fair Grounds and Louisiana Downs enjoying national prominence, not to mention the success Delta Downs has had since becoming the first track in the state to open a slots facility.

Fast forward 12 months and now Yount's words have almost proven prophetic. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita wreaked havoc on Fair Grounds and Delta Downs last fall, resulting in those two tracks losing racing dates over the winter. Louisiana Downs has undergone a massive changeover recently in key personnel and opened its meeting on Friday with a new director of racing operations, racing secretary, track superintendent, and announcer. Through all this upheaval, Evangeline Downs has remained the state's one constant - and across America bettors have responded.

Four weeks into the spring-summer meeting that began in late March, Evangeline's daily average handle has swelled to almost $1.8 million a day, a remarkable increase of 40 percent from a year ago. Last Thursday night, from almost the exact same spot in the clubhouse at which he spoke those words a year before, Yount said, "We would not trade places with anyone right now."

Yount was quick to point out that part of Evangeline's momentum was because of the winter dates the track assumed while Delta was repairing its stable area and the shorter Fair Grounds meeting that was conducted at Louisiana Downs. But he also said hard work and a good business plan helped perpetuate the success.

"The folks from our parent company, Peninsula Gaming, are great to work with," said Yount. "They are not as big an operation as other gaming companies and seem more focused on making the racing side of the equation a viable, successful business operation."

Evangeline remains the industry's first and only racing and slots facility built from the ground up, and Yount emphasized that they want to be the "whole package."

"We are still pursuing OTB's and video poker parlors in the region," he said. "We just opened up an OTB in Eunice, which is our fifth such facility. Our motto of being 'home of the biggest fields' continues to ring true as the country has proven to us that quantity is very important."