The $22 million sale of Harrah’s Louisiana Downs to Rubico Acquisition Corp. raced over the finish line at the Oct. 26 meeting of the Louisiana Racing Commission, where it was quickly and unanimously approved.
This came on the heels of the Louisiana Gaming Control Board signing off on the sale at its meeting five days earlier. The transaction required both regulating parties to approve.
At the LGCB meeting, Chairman Ronnie Johns said that the sale was crucial for Louisiana Downs’ survival.
“I really believe if this sale didn’t go through, Caesars would ultimately close the facility. The company just isn’t interested in operating a horse racetrack.”
Horses have raced at the Downs in Bossier City since October 1974. The property sits on about 265 acres near Shreveport. The casino floor currently houses over 800 slot machines.
New Rubico ownership plans include diverse staffing, more
Joe Morris, senior vice president at Caesars, the property’s current owner, expects the sale will close Nov. 1.
“We’re completely committed to making the transition as smooth as possible,” he said.
Tom Benninger, director of Rubico and a board member of Caesars Entertainment, noted that the new ownership has “a long list of plans for the property. Our plans start with a brand-new IT system” that Rubico will coordinate with Caesars to accomplish.
Next up will be an expansion of the gaming floor — “changing out” maybe 150 slots — along with “substantial improvement of the food and beverage operations,” according to Benninger. He mentioned putting in a center bar in the casino.
Rubico also aims to improve the experience not just for customers but also for jockeys. Plus, while races happen about 130 days per year, he hopes they can attract area horsemen year-round to the facility’s practice track. Improvement of the barns is also on their to-do list.
When it comes to staffing, he wants to address the lack of “integration” of the property’s casino employees and racing employees, who he said “culturally see two different sides of the property.” Benninger said he intends to retain current staff. And Kevin Preston, Rubico’s president, assured the board that Louisiana Downs’ newest executives are primarily women and minorities.
Rubico looks to secure Louisiana sports betting license
In addition, Benninger said he hopes to secure a sports betting license and put up a retail sportsbook area in the track. It would also authorize Louisiana Downs to secure an operating partner and launch a Louisiana mobile betting app.
Rubico will apply for licensing by the Dec. 31 deadline. Again, this was unanimously approved by the Racing Commission.
The new owners will keep the name “Louisiana Downs,” but Rubico will drop “Harrah’s.” On top of that, the incoming ownership group will name the players’ club “Club 74” after the property’s inaugural year.
A team already in place has marketing plans ready to go, as the owners look to make the property much more local-oriented.
Louisiana Downs transition in the home stretch
The deal has been in the works for more than a year, according to the Shreveport Times. Now, Rubico is ready to take over as the new owner.
“It’s been a long journey,” Benninger noted. “If anything, we’re more prepared than ever to take control and hopefully improve the property.”
Preston said that at the end of the day, their hopes are to return the racetrack to what all agreed is its iconic status.
“It’s also about what we can do for the community… and for us.”