A photo on the Web site at New Orleans station WWL shows hurricane damage to Fair Grounds Race Course.

A photo on the Web site at New Orleans station WWL shows hurricane damage to Fair Grounds Race Course.

WWL Web site

Churchill Attempting to Contact Louisiana-Based Employees

Churchill Downs Inc. announced Wednesday it has activated a toll-free information hotline for its Louisiana employees displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

The number, which will be staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, is (877) 244-5536.

According to a release from the company, the CDI Louisiana Employee Hotline has been established as a means for employees of Fair Grounds Race Course, Finish Line Off-Track Betting facilities and Video Services Inc., which manages the company's video poker operations in southeast Louisiana, to contact CDI's corporate office directly for information on payroll, benefits and immediate assistance. The company release said Churchill has approximately 500 full-time employees at its racetrack, OTB and video poker operations in the Greater New Orleans area.

"We are very concerned about the health and welfare of our many team members and their families who are scattered across the country, seeking refuge with relatives, friends and in shelters," said Thomas H. Meeker, CDI's president and chief executive officer. "In order to provide immediate assistance to them, we need to first locate them, and we are asking for the assistance of our employees at CDI facilities across the country, as well as local and regional media, in publicizing this toll-free hotline so our Louisiana team members know how to reach us."

Louisiana employees who call the CDI Louisiana Employee Hotline will be asked to provide important contact information and will be put in touch with corporate human resources representatives who can assist them

On Tuesday, Churchill confirmed that Fair Grounds sustained damage from Hurrican Katrina, saying the company will "reserve detailed comment on this matter until such time as we are able to conduct on-site inspections and more accurately gauge the impact Hurricane Katrina had on our Louisiana operations."

Fair Grounds and its affiliated off-track betting facilities and video poker operations are owned and operated by Churchill Downs Inc.

"We have much work to do in order to assess the status of our business operations and put in place a plan to move forward in Louisiana," said Meeker. "Given the difficulty of accessing areas affected by the storm, it could take several days or weeks before we have an accurate assessment. Right now, our greatest concern is for our employees, their families and our neighbors throughout the Greater New Orleans community.

"We know many of our team members are currently far from home and worried about the status of their homes and belongings. Our first concern is seeing to their immediate needs. The thoughts and prayers of CDI employees across the country are with them as we all come to grips with the aftermath of the storm."

Fair Grounds security personnel reported that the racetrack, located on Gentilly Boulevard, sustained structural damage to the grandstand facility and there is some flooding around the property. The condition of stable-area structures, including barns, and the 10 off-track betting facilities located around the greater New Orleans area is not known, the statement said.

Fair Grounds is scheduled to conduct its next live race meeting from Nov. 24, 2005, through March 26, 2006. The track was closed for live racing at the time the storm hit, so no horses or stable personnel were on-site.

The Churchill statement said the company carries insurance on Fair Grounds and its affiliated businesses to cover property loss and business interruptions and that the company is "preparing a team of employees and insurance industry representatives to assess damage to the racing property and off-track betting network, as well as the impact to Fair Grounds' overall operations and the track's ability to operate a race meet during the 2005-2006 racing season."

Fair Grounds recently received approval from New Orleans City Council to begin construction of a slot machine gaming facility, which would be added on to the racetrack structure. Construction of the new facility had not begun when Hurricane Katrina hit, but renovations to portions of Fair Grounds' stable area, including improvements to living quarters and the track kitchen, were underway at the time.