New Orleans’ Fair Grounds Course will put an end to a 17-year-old prohibition on televised sports betting through a City Council vote on Thursday to create a new sportsbook, thus bringing it in line with other Louisiana casinos.
The ban goes back to 2005, when the council allowed Fair Grounds owner, Churchill Downs Inc., to add slot machines in addition to the bets on horse racing under certain conditions, such as not televising any sports-related activities other than horse racing.
As reported by Nola.com, Doug Shipley, the fairgrounds’ general manager, spoke after the council vote and said: “We need it because all our competitors have it. We’re the only ones that don’t have it”.
The City Planning Commission had previously recommended approval of this prohibition removal, and pointed out that the new sportsbook does not need new construction at the site. Shipley detailed sports betting would occur in an existing 1,500-square-foot room, which is currently used as a multipurpose event space, with a couple dozen televisions.
“It’s not going to be like a Harrah’s-Caesars type of mega sports book. This is more or less just to serve the folks that are already there”, Shipley said.
Caesars Sportsbook featuring betting kiosks at Harrah's New Orleans casino.
Support for this project was not unanimous. Council member Helena Moreno passed an amendment calling for Churchill Downs to explain how it will ensure that horse racing continues to be the venue’s primary use.
Two members of the Fairgrounds Citizens Advisory Committee, Jeannie Donovan and Bruce Hamilton, submitted public comments before Thursday’s vote claiming Churchill Downs had not complied with other rules in 2005, when the ban was established, such as falling short on its commitment to pay a four-officer, round-the-clock New Orleans police patrol. Shipley denied the claim, and said Churchill Downs pays $600,000 annually for the patrol.
However, according to a report by the Planning Commission, several nearby residents expressed their support for the project.
In 2020, a state law allowed parishes to decide whether to allow sports betting, and most passed referendums making it legal. Orleans was one of them. The move has led to sports betting expansions at brick-and-mortar casinos and also the fast-growing market for mobile betting apps.
The moves comes after Churchill Downs Inc. announced in late February in an earnings call that it is exiting the online casino and sports betting businesses. The Kentucky Derby operator, however, will still maintain its web-based horse betting operations.
Ronnie Johns, Louisiana Gaming Control Commission's chair
As reported by the Louisiana Gaming Control Board, more than 67 million wagers were made at the state’s retail sportsbooks during November and December, and nearly $10.1 million were made across the two final months of 2021. These were the first two operational months for the market. The figures came after tracking sports betting numbers at 11 active establishments.
Retail sports betting launched in Louisiana casinos on October 31 with former Saints quarterback Bobby Hebert’s first state-regulated legal sports bet at the Caesars Sportsbook inside Harrah’s New Orleans Casino. After a long wait, the state’s Gaming Control Board launched online sports wagers on January 28.