10/02/2003 12:00AM

Polls to open on Fair Grounds slots


Voters in Orleans Parish, La., on Saturday will help determine the future of a proposed slot machine parlor at Fair Grounds. The parish referendum is the second in three formal steps the track must take to bring slots. The first hurdle, legislative approval, was cleared last spring, and if the voters give approval Saturday, Fair Grounds faces a licensing suitability investigation by the Louisiana State Police.

The slots referendum comes at a crucial moment. Fewer than two months ago, Fair Grounds declared bankruptcy to protect itself from the effects of an impending financial judgment that may run to more than $100 million. Louisiana horsemen contend they are owed unpaid purse money generated by video poker machines at Fair Grounds, and in March, the state Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, agreed with them.

Fair Grounds, the only track in Louisiana not fully approved for slots, has sought them for several years. The track reached an agreement with Harrah's casino in New Orleans to waive Harrah's exclusive right to operate slots in Orleans Parish, and this year they finally convinced the legislature to allow the plan to move forward. The track, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, has pumped $100,000 into the effort to persuade voters to support the referendum.

The slots parlor would replace the existing video poker parlor, which is housed in a simulcast facility. The slots legislation allots Fair Grounds 300 slot machines in 2004, but that could rise to 700 by 2005.