NEW ORLEANS, La. (November 12, 2008) – They’ve been racing horses on this site for a century and a half, but Friday will rank among the biggest days in the storied history of Fair Grounds. Not only will the track embark on its winter racing season – two weeks earlier than in recent years – but it will officially open its new slot-machine gaming facility.
The ribbon cutting ceremony for the slots facility gets underway at 8:30 a.m. Friday, in time for the doors to open at 9. The first race will leave the gate at 12:30 p.m. An invitation-only VIP party in the evening rounds out Opening Day.
More than just brick and mortar is new as the nation’s third-oldest track counts down to its 137th season.
Austin Miller, who has been at Fair Grounds since last summer, was promoted to president last month.
“Fair Grounds is one of the jewels in the crown that is the sports scene of New Orleans,” Miller said. “With the start of a new racing season and the opening of our new slots facility, we begin the next chapter and take a more prominent place in our city’s sports and entertainment landscape.”
Two other key figures also begin new roles. Vice president and general manager of racing Eric Halstrom joined the Fair Grounds team last week, while Louisiana native Jason Boulet begins his first season as Fair Grounds’ racing secretary.
After operating with as many as 250 slot machines for the past 14 months, the new facility can hold up to 700 machines. It opens with slightly more than 600.
The 33,000-square-foot expansion also features a 120-seat Grandstand Buffet on the second floor, which will be open for lunch and dinner daily; two eateries and a bar adjacent to the gaming floor; a high-limit slots area, and two VIP rooms, one each for slots and horse racing customers.
In conjunction with the opening of the slots facility, dark day and evening simulcasting will relocate to the east end of the grandstand. It has been in the west grandstand since May 2007.
The earlier start to the meet is a direct result of the enhanced purse pool because of alternative gaming. Instead of adding weekdays within the previous 18-week structure, track and Churchill Downs Incorporated management decided to expand the schedule by two weekends.
With the opening of the slots facility, an additional entrance for slots customers was created near Gentilly Boulevard. The valet parking entrance has also been restored. Along with the entrances at each end of the track apron, customers and horsemen now have five ways to enter the facility.
Fair Grounds will offer live racing Thursday through Sunday (except Nov. 20, Christmas, Feb. 26 and March 26) and add Mondays from Dec. 22 through Feb. 23. The track will also race on New Year’s Eve and Mardi Gras (Feb. 24).
The slots facility is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. until midnight and Sunday from 10 a.m.-midnight.
Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, the nation’s third-oldest Thoroughbred racing facility, has been in operation since 1872. Located in New Orleans, Fair Grounds is owned by Churchill Downs Incorporated (NASDAQ Global Select Market: CHDN); it also operates a slot-machine gaming facility and nine off-track betting parlors throughout southeast Louisiana. Fair Grounds’ 137th Thoroughbred season will run from Nov. 14, 2008, through March 29, 2009, and its inaugural Quarter Horse meet was conducted from Aug. 20-24, 2008. Information about Fair Grounds can be found on the Internet at www.fairgroundsracecourse.com.
FACTS ABOUT SLOTS AT FAIR GROUNDS
Facility Grand Opening: November 14, 2008
Hours of Operation: Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-midnight; Sunday, 10 a.m.-midnight
Location/Dimensions: 33,000-square-foot facility located adjacent to grandstand on southeast corner of property
Cost of Slots Project: $30 million
Number of Machines: Up to 700
Denominations: Range from penny to $5; largest number of low-denomination (nickel or less) games in New Orleans market
Manufacturers: Aristocrat, Bally, IGT, Konami, Williams
New Customer Amenities: High limit slots area, slots VIP lounge, horse racing VIP gold room, new simulcasting area on east end of grandstand
New Food and Beverage Areas: Grandstand Buffet located on second floor (open for lunch and dinner daily), two “grab-and-go” style eateries (Gentilly Grill, DeSaix Deli) and bar (Twin Spires Tavern) adjacent to gaming floor
Number of Employees: 820 (650 at Fair Grounds, including 180 in slots facility; 170 at nine off-track betting facilities in southeast Louisiana)
MANY WILL BENEFIT
18% is contributed to purses and breeders’ funds for Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse racing.
Up to 22.5% of the remaining money goes to state and city taxes
Of the state’s share, the following will directly benefit:
Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation
Algiers Economic Development Foundation
New Orleans Urban Tourism & Hospitality Training and Economic Development Foundation
New Orleans Beautification Project
Friends of NORD
Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District
May 2003 – Louisiana Legislature passes a bill allowing slots at Fair Grounds, if approved by voters in Orleans Parish.
Oct. 4, 2003 – Orleans Parish voters pass a referendum allowing slots at the track, with 58 percent voting “yes.”
Oct. 14, 2004 – Churchill Downs Incorporated (CDI) purchases Fair Grounds and related interests from Krantz family.
April 19, 2005 – CDI receives license to operate slot machines at Fair Grounds from Louisiana Gaming Control Board.
June 16, 2005 – New Orleans City Council approves Fair Grounds’ plans to operate slots facility, including construction of permanent facility. The goal is to open the permanent facility in late 2006.
Aug. 22, 2005 – Test pilings for the permanent facility are driven.
Aug. 29, 2005 – Hurricane Katrina forces Fair Grounds to move its 2005-06 racing season to Louisiana Downs and temporarily halts slots plans.
Nov. 23, 2006 – Racing returns to New Orleans as Fair Grounds opens its 135th season in front of a crowd of 8,732.
Feb. 14, 2007 – Fair Grounds and CDI announce plans to move forward with slot machine gaming and begin approval process for temporary facility.
Sept. 19, 2007 – Temporary slots facility opens with up to 250 machines.
Nov. 14, 2008 – Grand opening of permanent slots facility, which features up to 700 machines.