Fair Grounds Moving Ahead With Slots Facility Plan

Fair Grounds Race Course and its parent company, Churchill Downs Inc., confirmed their intent to move forward with plans to build a slot machine gaming facility adjacent to the historic racetrack in New Orleans.

Construction of a 30,000-square foot facility that would house a maximum of 700 slot machines was scheduled to begin in September 2005, but was delayed in late August of that year when Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath caused significant damage to the racetrack and its stable area as well as many of Fair Grounds’ Finish Line Off-Track Betting facilities around the New Orleans community.

“Following the hurricane, our priorities were to locate our employees and help them with their immediate needs, and then repair and reopen our pari-mutuel and video poker facilities,” said Steve Sexton, executive vice president for CDI, in a statement released Feb. 14. “With our repairs completed and this season’s race meet well underway, we can now focus fully on plans to implement slot machine gaming at Fair Grounds.”

Fair Grounds is also seeking permission from New Orleans city officials to renovate the first floor of its on-site simulcast wagering parlor and operate a temporary slot machine gaming facility housing 225 machines out of that structure while the permanent facility is built. Fair Grounds’ request to operate a temporary slot machine gaming facility is subject to the approval of the New Orleans City Planning Commission and the New Orleans City Council.

“We think it makes good sense to operate out of a temporary facility while the permanent building is under construction so we can start the flow of tax revenues to the City of New Orleans and State of Louisiana – and generate additional money for horsemen’s purses – as soon as possible,” said Randy Soth, Fair Grounds president and general manager. “By starting in a smaller facility, we can also fine tune operational and customer service issues well before we open the permanent facility.”

Pending the approval of New Orleans city officials, renovations to the simulcast-wagering facility would begin in late spring, following the annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival hosted by Fair Grounds, with a target date for opening the temporary facility in October 2007.  Construction of the permanent facility, which has already been approved by New Orleans City officials, is scheduled to begin this summer, with a target date for completion in the late fall of 2008.

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