Louisiana Bill Would Divert Slot Revenue to Fund Fair Grounds Improvements

by | 04.05.2014 | 10:29am

Louisiana state legislators have stepped in the middle of a simmering dispute between Churchill Downs Inc., owners of Fair Grounds racetrack in Louisiana, and the Louisiana Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, which in February sent a letter to CDI president and COO William Carstenjen, requesting permission to hire an expert to assess a turf course that for the past two seasons has had drainage problems.

The Feb 5 letter to Carstanjen from Stanley Seeling, president of the LAHBPA, has gone unanswered, and both state senators and members of the House of Representatives have followed up with letters to the CDI executive seeking a response.

According to NOLA.com, legislation has been introduced by Rep. Patrick Connick that would require Churchill Downs to divert 10 percent of its revenue from slot machines to capital improvements, which would amount to upwards of $5 million annually.

Five other state representatives joined Connick in signing a letter to Carstenjen that read, in part, “Louisiana's statutes afford horse racetrack owners the opportunity to operate slot machines in addition to pari-mutuel wagering. The opportunity comes with the responsibility to operate a racing facility that best serves horse racing in our state.”

In his letter to Carstanjen on Feb. 5, Seelig wrote: “In years past, the turf course has been able to be utilized within one or two days of a rain event. On numerous occasions this year, a rain event has caused a delay in use of the course for a much longer period of time. Drainage issues appear to be a significant factor in this problem.

“The LAHBPA would like your permission to have access to the turf course so we can hire an expert at our expense to study the course both on the surface and the drainage. This would allow all involved to have a better understanding of the issues preventing the course from properly draining. Again, this would be at our cost and all information would be shared with you or your designated representatives. This information would help all parties decide what alternatives would be available to address this situation.”

Seelig has suggested in the past that drainage problems could stem in part from the annual New Orleans Jazz Festival, which left the turf course a sea of mud in 2013.

Connick was quoted as saying CDI officials told him: “They told me fixing (the turf course) would not be a return on their investment.”

Fair Grounds experienced a significant decline in handle during the 2013-14 meeting, along with short fields when races were moved from turf to dirt. Purses were cut and stakes eliminated as a result of the shortfalls.

Read more at NOLA.com.

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