11/29/2001 12:00AM

Local partnership to buy Louisiana Downs


A group of local investors has a preliminary agreement in place to purchase Louisiana Downs in Bossier City, La., confirmed Ray Tromba, the track's executive vice president and general manager, on Thursday.

Louisiana Downs, after a lengthy legislative process, was awarded a gaming license in March, and is constructing a slots casino on the first floor of its grandstand.

The partnership is headed by Jim Davis, a Shreveport, La., attorney. The group also includes other residents of Louisiana, and at least one investor from East Texas. The names of the other investors are confidential by the terms of the agreement, but none is believed to have ties to the horse racing or casino gambling industries, said Tromba.

Louisiana Downs was one of three tracks owned by the Cleveland-based real estate developer Edward DeBartolo Sr., who died in 1994. Dr. John York, DeBartolo's son-in-law, is the majority owner of Louisiana Downs.

Because of a confidentiality agreement, the purchase price cannot be disclosed, said Tromba. But the gaming license made the property considerably more valuable. Delta Downs, located in Vinton, La., was purchased in 1999 for $10 million and was sold this year for a reported $125 million to Boyd Gaming after being given approval to open a slots casino.

Davis was traveling on Thursday, and according to his assistant was unavailable for comment. Tromba said Davis is in the process of observing racetrack casino operations at Prairie Meadows, in Altoona, Iowa, and Woodbine Race Course, near Toronto.

According to Tromba, the new group has indicated its intent to continue racing at Louisiana Downs, which opened in 1974. Louisiana Downs conducted an 89-day meet this year, and is scheduled to begin its annual Thoroughbred meet next June.

The agreement has not stopped the current Louisiana Downs ownership from continuing with construction of a 15,000-square-foot slots casino. "Either way, we're moving forward," said Tromba.

A 60-day due diligence period on Louisiana Downs has begun, and should be complete by the end of January. In order to operate a race meet and a slots casino at Louisiana Downs, the new ownership group will have to be granted licenses from both the Louisiana Racing Commission and the Louisiana Gaming Control Board. The licenses will require extensive background investigations.

The DeBartolo family's other tracks, Thistledown in Cleveland and Remington Park in Oklahoma City, were sold in October 1999 to Magna Entertainment.