03/20/2002 12:00AM

Slots casino now slated for April '03

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Jim Davis, who heads the group of investors purchasing Louisiana Downs in Bossier City, La., for $54 million, said on Wednesday the track's slots casino would not open until April 2003. Last year, track officials announced that the casino would be operational by the first quarter of 2002, and later pushed that date back to the fall of 2002.

After that latest announcement, Davis's group entered into an agreement to purchase Louisiana Downs, and construction on the casino is not expected to begin in earnest until they take over. Davis hopes the closing will happen in 60 to 90 days, before Louisiana Downs opens its meet June 28. Construction would then begin in July, and the project will take eight to 10 months, backing up the opening to April.

That means the 40 percent purse increase that Louisiana Downs announced this year, which will lift purses to $200,000 a day for its summer meet, will not be paid for by revenue from the slots.

Slot machines "were never in the equation," said Pat Pope, the track's racing secretary. The purse increase "is from the owners."

Shortly after the purse increase was announced, Davis said that he intended to keep purses at that level after his purchase of the track is complete. Davis also is planning $120 million in renovations to Louisiana Downs, including a hotel and an amphitheater.

The track had its layout for a 1,500-machine slots casino approved by the Louisiana Gaming Control Board on Tuesday. Davis's group, which must pass suitability checks, filed a background application to the Louisiana State Police on Monday.