Senate Committee Approves Slots for Fair Grounds

By Hector San Miguel

A Louisiana Senate committee April 1 approved slot machines for Fair Grounds in New Orleans. The measure, which passed on a 4-2 vote, now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

The bill, authored by Sen. Lambert Boissiere Jr., would gradually increase the number of slot machines at Fair Grounds from 300 sometime this year to an eventual maximum of 700. New Orleans voters must decide if they want the machines at the track. The Louisiana Gaming Control Board will also have to give its approval for the racino.

Of the other tracks in the state, Delta Downs in Vinton has slot machines online. Louisiana Downs expects to have the machines operating this year, and Evangeline Downs by 2004. Fair Grounds is the only track in the state without approval for slots.

Supporters of the Fair Grounds bill said Harrah's Entertainment, which operates a land-based casino in New Orleans, is in favor of the measure. Sen. Jay Dardenne, who voted against it, said a deal made when the casino sought a $50-million tax cut from the state. Delta Downs has 1,500 slot machines, but the Harrah's deal would limit the Fair Grounds maximum to 700 machines.

Sen. Ken Hollis, who voted in favor of the bill, said Fair Grounds promised last year to come up with $10 million above the 18.5% in state taxes it would pay to finish work on the New Orleans Arena. He said he wants the track to keep that promise and has asked for confirmation before the slots bill comes up for final action in the Senate.