The New Orleans Fair Grounds is home to the Louisiana Derby, the famed Jazz and Heritage Festival, and one day soon, a sportsbook.
By a 5-0 vote last week the New Orleans City Council approved a measure that would allow the 150–year old race track to create an on-site sportsbook in addition to slot machines and taking bets on the day’s races.
The decision, which met with some outcry from some community members, ended a 17–year ban on allowing the Fair Grounds to allow sports on-site sports wagering.
A run for all times: History of the Fair Grounds
Nestled in the Gentilly neighborhood of New Orleans, the Fair Grounds has been a true institution in the city. It is the third–oldest racetrack in the United States, having opened in 1872. When Louisiana approved a lottery in 1991, Fair Grounds officials sought to expand the gambling options on site.
Eventually, in 2005, the City Council let Churchill Downs, the owner/operator of the Fair Grounds, add slot machines but placed restrictions on other forms of gambling.
Fair Grounds officials say that adding a sportsbook puts it more in line with the other racetracks in Louisiana, such as Evangeline Downs and Delta Downs, which both operate a FanDuel sportsbook, and Louisiana Downs.
Plans are to renovate a 1,500 square foot section of the track’s main building to fit in the sportsbook.
“Both forms of wagering have similar impacts in terms of activity and traffic they generate,” said city planner Paul Cramer. “Any additional activity that results from sports wagering would be quite limited, due to the small size of the area used for the wagering.”
Concerns of local residents
Multiple neighborhood groups expressed support and concern about the Fair Grounds adding a sportsbook. Citizens are concerned that the venerable site has not upgraded its security perimeter with full–time watchmen as it had agreed.
Fair Grounds President and General Manager Doug Shipley commented that his staff would continue to work with the New Orleans Police Department to provide greater police coverage. The additional coverage costs $600,000 a year.
“It is my feeling that the Fair Grounds always acts in good faith,” said Shipley. “I think we’ve done a good job where there’s a lot of moving parts. We’re certainly not perfect, but there’s nothing to the significance that’s been reflected or discussed.”
Highlights of the Fair Grounds
The Fair Grounds is nearing the end of its racing season with the Louisiana Derby set for March 26. The race is almost as old as the Kentucky Derby, dating back to 1894.
There have been two winners of both the Louisiana and Kentucky Derby: Black Gold in 1924 and Grindstone in 1996. The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival will take place at the Fair Grounds April 29 to May 8.