04/22/2014 2:40PM

No decision on Fair Grounds license renewal


The Louisiana Racing Commission on Tuesday deferred a decision on whether to renew the license for Churchill Downs’s Fair Grounds racetrack in New Orleans, according to reports, a maneuver that heightens the pressure on the company in the face of harsh criticism from horsemen over its management of the facility.

Along with the state’s other racetracks, Churchill had applied for a 10-year renewal of the Fair Grounds racing license and its offtrack betting parlors. But the commission deferred approving the license Tuesday after two hours of discussion, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

Officials of the commission did not immediately respond to requests for comments. In a statement, Tim Bryant, the president of Fair Grounds, said the track has been asked to provide information to the racing commission on the track’s turf course, its marketing, and its “service and backstretch facilities” for a special meeting May 1 to reconsider the license application.

“We look forward to further discussions and continuing to show our commitment to Fair Grounds racing in New Orleans,” Bryant said.

John Asher, a spokesman for Churchill Downs Inc., said the company would have no comment on the commission’s decision as of Tuesday afternoon.

Horsemen based at the track have been highly critical of Churchill’s management of the track over the last several months and have registered specific complaints about the condition of the turf course and the maintenance of the racetrack building. The complaints led to hearings in the state legislature, and last week, the Louisiana House passed a bill by a vote of 94-0 that would require Churchill to use 10 percent of the revenue from its Louisiana slot machines for capital expenditures.

Churchill opposed the legislation, telling legislators that the problems at the track were related to a decline in racing-related revenue in the midst of an industry “depression.” Handle at Fair Grounds was down 11 percent in 2013 compared with 2012, according to the company’s financial statements.

Last year, Churchill had net revenue of $40.1 million from the racing operations at Fair Grounds, down 8 percent from 2012, according to the financial statements. Its net slot-machine revenue in Louisiana in 2013 was $40.9 million, according to the statements, down 2 percent from 2012.

According to the Times-Picayune, Fair Grounds president Tim Bryant told commissioners at the meeting Tuesday that the company planned to install a new video screen in the track’s infield. The screen has been broken for several years, agitating horsemen who have expressed skepticism about Churchill’s commitment to live racing at the track.

Michael La Rosa More than 1 year ago
I'm born and raised in New Orleans been going to the Fair Grounds my whole life. When CD came in and bought the track we all celebrated. CD will bring premiere racing and possibly a Breeders Cup to New Orleans it was proclaimed. What a failure they have brought. There is no customer courtesy, there is no promotion, there are no television commercials, there are no upgrades to the facility this in addition to horsemen's concerns. The list can go on and on at the complete lack of care they have shown in all aspects. Oh they have Friday night concerts in the clubhouse whoopee, I actually heard one manager say "we don't care if they don't bet on the horses as long as they show up and drink" Wow what a way to promote the sport. I would be terribly concerned if I was an investor in CDI. Well as far as I'm concerned CD can go back to Kentucky. Let the track be run by someone who actually cares. Someone who is willing to invest in it's future. Someone who can promote the track and the sport. This track has a great history it deserves better than this.
Old N Ugly More than 1 year ago
Let CD run their business.....The government should not be in the horse business. It seems that CD wants to drain every thing from FG...It's their failing business model. So be it....However, the slot machines should be pulled from the race track..If horse racing can't survive on it's own maybe it's their time to go.
Will Deal More than 1 year ago
Handle down? Okay handle represents parimutuel betting from across the country, but it also reflects attendance. Some small things (there are many) that affected the FG handle: This past year, the $3 beer was removed from concessions, cheapest beer is now $4.75. At times, half the exit doors leading to the apron were locked and marked as inoperable. Many of the parimutuel machines were removed. In the very popular paddock bar (now Star Guitar Bar) machine count went from 7 to 3, leading to long lines. There was rarely more than one live teller at any bank of betting parlors, forcing wagers to be made at fewer machines. This was very off putting to the occasional better who was forced to use an unfamiliar machine. Riders-up was moved from the walking ring to the saddling stalls. There hasn't been a live bugler at the FG for the past two years. It goes on. All of these things, and more, discourage patron attendance and betting.
AndrewD More than 1 year ago
Churchill Downs Inc. is a locust.
Patricia Doyle More than 1 year ago
Maybe they would increase that 40.1 mill if they made the place a place people want to go and a place where people want to bet their dollars. "Fix it and they will come"
Bob Fasching More than 1 year ago
$40 millions dollars in net revenue in 2013 from racing operations doesn't sound like a business in decline to me???
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Your turf course stinks, but you're fixing your video screen, at least. So I guess watching the horses get hurt on the grass just became a whole lot easier.
AzHorsePlayer More than 1 year ago
This is CDI's Mission statement: To deliver premier racing, gaming and entertainment that customers love and that grow the value of our shareholders' investment...FAIL!
John McTague More than 1 year ago
more bad news as Charlie cella gets along in years I am conserned he might sell oaklawn to these rat basterds
John Gamble More than 1 year ago
let's hope not... Oaklawn is the best run track in the country not named Keeneland.
Walter More than 1 year ago
I think since OP is located in an historic district of Hot Springs, it cannot just be sold to anyone. It has something like a Landmark status.
Walter More than 1 year ago
Kudos to the LA Racing Commission. CDI seems to roll over everything in their path & do whatever they please. Lately, they have been making so many moves that are anti horse racing (i.e. Raising takeout, the KY derby points system, the neglect of Calder, sale of Hollywood Park) I am glad to see Louisiana give them some good ol medicine. Maybe CDI will think twice before they continue to neglect FG.
Mike Reinhardt More than 1 year ago
Only thing I disagree with you about is the points system, I like that. Two year old races should have little to no bearing on who gets into the premier race for three year olds.
Walter More than 1 year ago
Points system is flawed and politically motivated. Leaving the Hol Futurity was wrong, it's a G1 race and deserved some points. Also, leaving off the IL Derby is completely political, since they are trying to put Haw out of business. They could do the points system if it was merit based, but unfortunately it is not presently.
Walt Gekko More than 1 year ago
The real problem is that CDI is a publicly traded company that has to answer to shareholders. Many of those shareholders would be all over CDI if they were not doing everything to make money and some could go as far as to sue in court and/or complain to the SEC. That's why you see such "unfriendly" moves.
Patricia Doyle More than 1 year ago
Seems to me improving the areas like backstretch facilities, the turf course etc would eventually increase the shareholders money. Leaving the track rot and ruin will mean the barns with the stakes quality horses leave FG and the Beulah $2,500s end up at FG. Big barns can winter at OP or come on to sunny fair weather California they don't have to cripple horses on the FG turf. FG can become Beulah awfully quick.