02/20/2002 12:00AM

Thousands pack Delta Downs to try new slots

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VINTON, La. - The opening of the slots parlor at Delta Downs last week was an overwhelming success, and the enthusiasm carried over into the weekend.

While no official turnstile count was kept, the facility attracted an estimated 5,000 to 7,000 on its first day of operation, Feb. 13.

"By far, it exceeded our expectations," said Rob Stillwell, a spokesman for Boyd Gaming, the owner of Delta Downs. "We really did not expect as many people as we had, as it was the middle of the week and following Mardi Gras."

Vehicles lined up for miles along the roadway as players from the west made their way to the track. The crush of cars was so great, the Louisiana State Police were forced to temporarily close Exit Ramp 4 on Interstate 10. The ramp is the first off point for eastbound traffic traveling from Texas.

What does this all mean for local horsemen? Boyd Gaming chairman Bill Boyd said that the effects are already being felt.

"The purses will increase on a gradual basis," Boyd said at the opening. "We have maintained the purses at a higher level than they were originally, even though we didn't have the [slots] income [at the beginning of the meet]."

Revenues from the slots are expected to generate more than $18 million a year for horsemen.