04/19/2005 12:00AM

Churchill gets La. slots nod


The Louisiana Gaming Control Board ruled unanimously on Monday that Churchill Downs Inc. may operate 700 slot machines at Fair Grounds racetrack in New Orleans, moving the company closer to a slots operation at the track.

The effort still faces several questions regarding any possible violations of the city's charter, and Churchill must also receive approval from New Orleans's planning commission and city council.

Voters in Orleans Parish, where Fair Grounds is located, approved slot machines at the track in October 2003. The city charter, however, has granted a land-based casino monopoly to Harrah's Entertainment, which operates a casino near the city's French Quarter.

Louisiana's attorney general, at the request of the attorney for the city of New Orleans, issued an opinion Friday that said the Fair Grounds operation would not violate the monopoly grant because of differences between the Harrah's casino and a slot-machine facility. The charter, however, may still need to be amended, which would require a parish-wide vote.

Julie Koenig-Loignon, a spokeswoman for Churchill, said company officials are to meet with the New Orleans planning commission on May 10. If the commission approves Churchill's proposal, then the company's effort will move to the city council.