With a bill mandating improvements at the Fair Grounds having gained unanimous approval in state House of Representatives, its author is hoping the track’s ownership, Churchill Downs Inc., will be spurred to take action of its own.
“I think they know now we mean business about this,” Rep. Patrick Connick (R-Marrero) said Monday. “My understanding is that they’re going to present several proposals about improvements.
“Will that be enough to stop the legislation? I have no idea.”
The proposals of which Connick spoke are to be presented at Tuesday’s meeting of the Louisiana Racing Commission.
After a contentious meetings in February when officials of the Louisiana Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association brought several complaints about conditions at the track before the Louisiana Racing Commission, Charlie Gardiner, executive director of the commission, appointed a subcommittee made up primarily of New Orleans-area members to study the issues and to bring CDI officials to the table at Tuesday’s meeting to address them.
In the meantime, Connick introduced legislation to mandate that 10 percent of CDI’s slots revenues at both the Fair Grounds and in its 11 off-track betting parlors in the area be dedicated for maintenance and capitol improvements at the track, which it has owned since 2004. That bill passed by a 94-0 vote last week and is next will be addressed by a Senate committee.
Connick also introduced bills that would give the state the power to suspend the track’s license if the slots revenue isn’t dedicated, but those bills are on hold.
Gardiner and local members of the commission could not be reached for comment on Monday. Fair Grounds President Tim Bryant did not respond to an interview request.
But Stanley Seelig, president of the horseman’s association, said pressure is being brought to bear.
“They’re being asked to present a five-year plan for the commission to see what’s being done about the backside, the racing surfaces and customer service,” Seelig said. “My information is that they will have one.”
Of particular concern to the horsemen is the condition of the turf track which has experienced severe drainage problems in the past two years. Almost half of the races written for the turf in the season that ended last month had to be shifted to the dirt track, which generally meant smaller fields and smaller handles.
An addendum to Tuesday’s agenda is a request from the LHBPA regarding the size of one of the track’s retention ponds. Seelig said it is his understanding that it has been reduced to provide more crowd space for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, which will be held at the Fair Grounds for the next two weekends.
“We’re hoping to see this thing worked out to everyone’s satisfaction,” Seelig said. “We want a good, solid surface to run on, we want the barns fixed up and we want to see racing marketing as it should be.
“Right now, all we’re seeing out of Churchill Downs is a priority of cutting overhead to help the bottom line. And if racing suffers, so be it.”
Tuesday’s agenda also includes setting the racing dates for the state’s four tracks for 2014-15.
The meeting will be held in the Queen Anne Room of the Monteleone starting at 9 a.m.