Fair Grounds Slots: Up to $3 Million a Year for Purses

by Hector San Miguel

Slot machines at Fair Grounds would generate $2 million to $3 million a year to supplement purses, according to figures released by state officials in Louisiana.

Voters in Orleans Parish will decide Oct. 4 if the track will be allowed to have slot machines. The proposition calls for Fair Grounds to have up to 300 slot machines through June 2004, up to 400 in 2005, and up to 500 slots from then on.

There also is a provision that if the revenue generated by a New Orleans land-based casino operated by Harrah's Entertainment exceeds $350 million in any 12-month period, the track would be allowed to increase its total number of slot machines to 700.

The Louisiana Gaming Control Board must still give final approval to Fair Grounds to have slot machines. The track would have to get rid of its 80 video poker machines if slots are approved.

Fair Grounds is the only racetrack in the state that doesn't have or isn't approved for slots. Fair Grounds officials have cited slots as a means to increase purses and attendance.

Figures from the Louisiana State Racing Commission show attendance at Fair Grounds and its off-track betting parlors has dropped as much as 30% in the last five years, and total live handle during that same period is down 13%, from $27.4 million to $23.9 million.

If slots are approved, 15% of adjusted gross revenue would go to purses, and 3% to breed associations. The track would keep whatever remains after it pays 22% of adjusted gross revenue in state and local taxes.

The state Legislative Fiscal Office has estimated a Fair Grounds slots parlor would generate from $9 million in net proceeds in 2004 to as much as $30 million by 2006.

Fair Grounds spent $45,000 through August for its bid to win voter approval for slot machines, according to campaign finance reports filed by the Fair Grounds Political Action Committee in Baton Rouge, La.

The Fair Grounds PAC campaign finance report shows it received a $45,000 contribution from Fair Grounds Corp. Henry Braden IV, one of the individuals paid for services, also represents Pinnacle Entertainment, which is building a $325-million casino resort in Lake Charles, La., and owns riverboat casinos in Bossier City, La., and Harvey, La.

Fair Grounds officials have said they plan to spend up to $100,000 on their campaign to get the track approved for slots.

There already is organized opposition to the referendum on Fair Grounds slots from the Bureau of Governmental Research, a non-profit, citizen-supported, independent research group that says it's "dedicated to informed public policy-making and the effective use of public resources in the New Orleans Metropolitan Area."

In a study released earlier this year, the bureau wrote about the Fair Grounds slots issue. The group stated its opposition to the proposition because it believes New Orleans doesn't need more gambling. It also said a 24-hour slots parlor "could have a negative impact on the surrounding neighborhood."