11/20/2003 12:00AM

Evangeline slots to open early

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A casino housing 1,627 slot machines at the future site of Evangeline Downs is scheduled to open on Dec. 19, three months earlier than expected. The track's racing operations will move to the site, in Opelousas, La., in 2005, but revenue from slots will benefit purses immediately, beginning with the Thoroughbred meet that opens April 1, 2004.

Evangeline has to move its operations from Carencro, La., because slot machine gaming was not approved in the parish where Carencro is located. The new site will feature a one-mile oval, a seven-eighth-mile turf course, a grandstand, and a barn area for 1,000 horses. Construction is scheduled to be complete in late 2004.

The first phase of the new Evangeline Downs is the 80,000-square-foot casino facility, which will also feature several restaurants.

In 2002, Evangeline was sold to Peninsula Gaming, which has casinos in Nevada, Iowa, and California. The track will be the third in the state to get slot machines. Delta Downs, owned by Boyd Gaming, installed slots in February 2002, while Louisiana Downs, owned by Harrah's Entertainment, opened a slots casino in May.

Evangeline will be the first racetrack-casino facility in the country to be built from the ground up.