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VOL. 130 | NO. 30 | Friday, February 13, 2015

Beyond Gaming

$38 million expansion takes Southland to the next level

By Bill Dries

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Nearly 60 years ago – even before the Hernando DeSoto Bridge was built across the Mississippi River – Southland Park opened with greyhound dog racing in West Memphis.

Sammy Hagar’s first Red Rocker Bar & Grill is now open at Southland Park Gaming and Racing, part of the plan that park officials have to make Southland more of a destination location than just a gaming spot. 

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

Since then it has become Southland Park Gaming and Racing with gambling on horse races simulcast from Oaklawn as well as slot machines and table games.

And Southland’s just-completed $38 million expansion takes the park’s attractions another step beyond gaming.

The expansion is the latest of several totaling $100 million in the last decade by Delaware North, which owns Southland.

Troy Keeping, Southland’s general manager and regional general manager of Delaware North, said there is likely a next expansion project that could include a hotel similar to the hotels that followed close behind the explosion of casino gaming in Tunica in the 1990s.

“We’ve always had an after-plan that includes hotel-convention space,” he said. “There is a design and a master plan that does include that.”

Keeping said Delaware North is also aware of changes in gaming that have taken their toll on Tunica in the last year or so that go beyond the competition between the casinos south of Memphis and Southland, across the river from Memphis.

“The gaming market in total has been shrinking overall, not just because of Southland being here and not just because of shrinking in Tunica,” he said. “The regionalization of gaming nationally has spread the fan base out.

“We’ll take probably the next six to 12 months and evaluate how this expansion does in terms of how we pro forma-ed it from the business model.”

Keeping said the year-long project, which added gaming space as well as new restaurants and a “reskinning” of the outside of the building, is a move “to take it to what it should have been from day one, a real cool place to hang out, party and have a good time.”

That includes the first Sammy Hagar’s Red Rocker Bar and Grill – the latest in a trio of restaurant brands developed by the musician, known for his solo work as well as his time with the bands Van Halen and Montrose.

With 55 televisions and lots of red, Hagar, who came to Southland this month to formally open the restaurant as well as launch the expansion, refers to the concept as “a sports bar that rocks.” Thumbing through a menu that is a miniature mock-up of an amplifer, Hagar also called it the “Frank Lloyd Wright of bar concepts.”

Famous musician Sammy Hagar (left) and Southland Park Gaming and Racing's president and general manager Troy Keeping held a joint press conference shortly before the grand opening of Hagar’s first Red Rocker Bar & Grill.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

At Southland, it joins the Bourbon House Steakhouse Grill and The Juke Joint as well as Shine Blounge – a blend of bar and lounge with the Juke Joint featuring live party bands on the weekends with DJs.

Hagar sat in with a local band headed by Jack Rowell for the opening of his bar and grill on a makeshift stage that could be rebuilt if there is more of a move to live entertainment at Southland.

“It’s not designed that way, but it’s designed to have the ability to do that,” Keeping said. “We designed it with great flexibility. You can do a simple duo, you could do a full blown band. You really have a lot of flexibility with it.”

There is also flexibility in the gaming space that was added in the expansion as well. Southland has a count of 1,735 games on its floor and has the capacity to go up to 2,200.

Delaware North, which is based in Buffalo, N.Y., is a hospitality company that is one of the largest privately held companies in the world, according to Forbes magazine.

That includes owning and operating TD Garden in Boston where the Boston Bruins of the National Hockey League and the Boston Celtics of the National Basketball Association play. The owner of the Bruins, Jeremy Jacobs, is the chairman of Delaware North.

The company operates lodging, transportation and retail at Yosemite National Park under a contract with the National Park Service as well as the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex for NASA in Florida.

“From the day we opened gaming, we took a strategy that we should be an entertainment destination and have a little bit of something for everyone,” Keeping said.

Hagar partnered with Delaware North on the third of his restaurant concepts because of the company’s work with restaurants in venues from stadiums to resorts to landmarks like the Empire State Building and Lincoln Center.

“I get hit on a lot of times by people to do one of my brands,” he said, referring also to the Cabo Wabo cantinas and Sammy’s Beach Bar and Grills, the latter being mostly in airports.

All of the personal proceeds Hagar makes from his restaurants go to charities in the communities where they are located.

Hagar also has a line of tequila with the Cabo Wabo brand and most recently Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum, a small batch distilled silver rum made in Hawaii.

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