09/02/2008 12:00AM

Gustav does little track damage


The threat of Hurricane Gustav was serious enough to close down the south Louisiana operations of Fair Grounds, Evangeline Downs, and Delta Downs, but with the storm now past and the tracks having assessed little damage to their facilities, officials on Tuesday were plotting when simulcast and casino operations can resume. Gustav reached land just west of New Orleans, home to Fair Grounds, and traveled through Opelousas, the location of Evangeline.

Evangeline canceled its Monday closing day card in advance of the hurricane, and none of the other tracks is currently racing live. Of them, Fair Grounds could be the last to get its casino and offtrack betting parlors back operating. The reopening schedule will depend on when the track's employees and customers will be cleared to reenter New Orleans, said Jennifer Stevens, a spokesperson for Churchill Downs Incorporated, which owns Fair Grounds. Early reports are evacuees could return home on Thursday.

Stevens said Austin Miller, general manager of Fair Grounds, was touring the facility Tuesday.

"To the best of our knowledge, there is no significant damage to the racetrack," she said.

Fair Grounds, which was hit hard by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, operates nine offtrack betting facilities, and just one, located in Houma, is believed to have incurred damage, to its roof.

Evangeline hopes to reopen its casino on Friday, with a timeline for the track's offtrack outlets still being determined, said general manager Mike Howard. He said there are about 1,000 horses on the grounds from the just ended meet, and all are okay. Howard said there was some minor water damage at Evangeline.

Delta, which had to rebuild its barns in 2005 after being hit by Hurricane Rita, sustained no damage from Gustav, according to Rob Stillwell, a spokesperson for Delta's owner, Boyd Gaming. He said he anticipates gaming operations will resume very soon.