Webster Parish Police Jury considers off track betting facilities in the future

Kevin Preston (inset)

By Paige Nash

An item to approve a Webster Parish Police Jury (WPPJ) Resolution to order and call a special election to authorize establishing off track wagering facilities in the parish was removed from the agenda at the jury meeting this past Tuesday, September 5.  

But that does not mean it will not be happening in the foreseeable future. 

Kevin Preston purchased Louisiana Downs almost two years ago for $22 million and is hoping to establish five off track facilities – one of those possibly being in Webster Parish. 

“When we bought the track part of our license through the racing commission, it states we are allowed to have five O.T.B. ‘s (Off Track Betting) within a 55-mile radius. So, what the racing commission is asking is that we look at locations,” said Preston. “We are not sold on anything yet obviously, but we are looking to get approval from various parishes so if and when we do decide to do something it would be something that we could do.” 

Preston explained the importance of horse racing to the state and that is a part of the reason that under his ownership, Louisiana Downs has received a multitude of improvements recently.  

The off track betting facility Preston and his team are considering in the parish would include a restaurant, televisions and machines that would allow visitors the opportunity to bet on horse races taking place around the country. The facility would employ 10 people to operate the facility with full benefits offered. 

WPPJ President Jim Bonsall expressed his concern with the facility being built in the parish due to it possibly taking from the taxes that the parish receives from those that partake in video poker casinos throughout the parish. The off track betting facility is state driven, so the parish would not see a return on its operations. 

“To me whatever money is spent on off track betting is going to come from these little casinos and that is going to cut our money,” said Bonsall. 

Preston explained that this may not be the case. He said, “There are folks who like to bet on horses, there are folks who like to just play video poker and there are some who like to do both. I wouldn’t say that it would necessarily go down. I would just say that it would be in addition to. It is a different core customer for sure.” 

So far this year, the parish has received $240,000 in taxes from the video poker casinos throughout the parish.  

If the jury wanted to get this item added to the upcoming fall election, it should have been approved at this month’s meeting. The jury decided to pull the item and proceed with further discussions and the possibility of having it moved to the spring election. 

The WPPJ would not be required to pay for the election if it gets jury approval in the coming months. That expense would be covered by Preston and Louisiana Downs.