On November 27th, 2007, the Fair Grounds Race Course started their eighty-first thoroughbred meet with the additional attraction of 245 slot machines which the racing track hopes will enlarge purses and help the track compete with other racing tracks. After the delays caused by the sale of the racing track to the Churchill Downs Incorporated in 2004 and a season greatly affected by Hurricane Katrina, the Fair Grounds has remodeled a part of their OTB parlor into a slot area.
Fair Grounds President Randy Soth commented that it will help them to be a well-known racing track especially during the winter. During the winter months, Fair Grounds has two top competitors: the Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, Florida and the Oaklawn Park at Hotsprings, Arkansas. Both racing tracks feature slot machines and other casino games to augment their incomes. Video poker and video blackjack have been present for a year at Oaklawn, to which an estimated $1.5 million will be added from the slot machines to horse racing purses at the their next race.
Gulfstream Park, which also debuted their slot machines a year ago has not decided how big a push its purses will receive, according to spokesperson Mike Mullaney. Soth said that if you observe Louisiana, the other three racing tracks have had slot machines for several years. It is a matter of not only being competitive in the market inside the state but being competitive even with racing track competitors during the winter season.
The Fair Grounds tournament which starts from March 23rd begins with an average of $350,000 daily in purses. The slot machines started at the Fair Grounds in September. They earned under $1.3 million during October, the first month of slots operation. Soth commented that more income is expected during the upcoming season, hopefully producing about $2.8 million aside from the additional yearly prize money.
The racing track is expected to debut a permanent casino facility with 700 slot machines in November 2008. For the Louisville, Kentucky-based Churchill Downs, the Fair Grounds is its only winter outlet. The organization also owns Churchill Downs at Louisville, Calder Race Course at Miami and Arlington International in Chicago.
No races are held during winter. Churchill and the rest of the racing industry in Kentucky have been supporting the move to legalize slot machines at the racing tracks. Governor-elect Steve Beshear, a Democrat commented that his recent triumph over Ernie Fletcher is a clear sign that Kentucky residents want to have the chance to decide whether or not they want casino gaming.
The issue is also inspiring a new discussion in Ohio about legalized betting. The Fair Grounds plans to hold 64 stakes races including ten graded races that will focus on two programs. The races carry a combined price of $7.3 million in total purses.
The long-awaited day will be on March 8th, 2008 when the racing track will hold the $600,000 Louisiana Derby, its Kentucky Derby prep and the Fair Grounds Oaks, a race preparation for the Kentucky Oaks. Other graded stakes on the program will feature the Mervin H. Muniz Memorial Handicap for older horses on the track and the New Orleans Handicap for older horses.