Oak Grove Racing, Gaming & Hotel will open its historical racing machines, four restaurants and event center to the public at 10 a.m. Sept. 18.
The New Era had the opportunity to tour the facility Thursday and interview Jerry Abner, the senior director of marketing for Oak Grove Racing and Gaming.
Construction on the property began in April 2019 and continued through the COVID-19 pandemic. The $200 million development is off Interstate 24 Exit 86 across from Fort Campbell.
While the gaming floor is set to open next Friday, construction of the hotel, equestrian center, amphitheater and RV park will finish later in the fall.
The hotel is slated to open to the public Oct. 9, and Abner added that reservations for the hotel would likely open soon.
The equestrian center, amphitheater and RV park will be the last areas finished, and Abner estimated late October, early November on the construction timeline.
“It’s been so wet, so hopefully it’ll dry out a little bit and that’ll help speed things up,” he said. “We’re putting the finished touches right now on the gaming floor, the event center and all of our restaurants.”
Here’s what to expect at the new facility:
As patrons enter, they will have their temperatures checked by hotel staff, be required to have masks and must fill out a coronavirus questionnaire.
Once allowed in, patrons will see Peek-A-Boo Bar and the gaming floor, which has roughly 1,300 historical racing machines with themes from Ainsworth, Scientific Games and International Gaming Technology companies.
Abner said Churchill Downs — the parent company of Oak Grove Racing, Gaming and Hotel — worked with gaming manufacturers to create Vegas-style games loaded with historical racing features.
“A lot of these themes we have exclusivity on so you will not see them at our nearest competitor,” Abner said.
Due to COVID-19 guidelines, the gaming floor will allow 25% capacity upon opening, so around 1,000 of the machines will be open to allow for social distancing.
When a patron is allowed inside the gaming area, they will be required to wear a mask unless actively drinking or eating, Abner explained.
A large bar and performance stage are on the middle, left side of the gaming area, and behind the bar and stage is a 32-foot TV screen surrounded by four 84-inch monitors on each side.
“I’m looking forward to when football starts,” he said. “That is going to look pretty awesome on that big screen.”
Abner said the facility will also have live music on the stage on Friday and Saturday nights.
“Currently with the COVID guidelines, we have to do last call at 10 p.m. and close at 11 p.m., so we’ll have live music from 7 to 10 p.m. just to see how it goes and then, hopefully, looking forward to better days, we can get back to more traditional entertainment and staying open later,” Abner said.
He shared that due to the COVID restrictions, patrons won’t be allowed to stand or sit at the bar, but instead, will be able to order something from the bar and move back to the gaming floor.
The facility’s restaurants and bars will be at 50% capacity, according to state COVID-19 guidelines.
Peek-A-Boo Bar can serve guests in the hotel lobby and on the gaming floor, and when sitting at either side of the bar, guests can “peek” through to the other side, Abner noted.
Next to Peek-A-Boo Bar is the Garrison Oak Steakhouse, which has 146 seats but will be allowing roughly 73 people to be seated at this time. Abner recommends making reservations at the steakhouse due to the coronavirus restrictions.
Within the gaming floor, there are also two other restaurants, Lucky Lime Tex Mex and SGT. Peppers Po’Boys and Burgers. Both are fast casual restaurants with seated dining or to-go options. These two restaurants are for ages 21 and up because they are on the gaming floor.
Abner said employees at the restaurant can bring food to guests who want to order and return to a gaming machine.
A coffee bar called O’Dark Thirty Coffee House is also available just inside the hotel lobby and is open to guests of all ages.
So far, 350 jobs have been filled and openings are still available. Abner said they are still hiring bartenders, waitresses, barbacks and more. Applications are available online at oakgrovegaming.com.
Abner shared that the facility has rotating “clean teams” that will enter the gaming area to sanitize the machines, countertops, chairs and other surfaces.
He added that there will also be hand sanitizer dispensers throughout the gaming area as well as several restrooms nearby.
“There’s nothing more important than the health of our guests and our teammates, so we want to make sure that we’re doing things the right way,” Abner said. “We’re enforcing all of the local, state, CDC guidelines.”
The hotel will also feature an event center and conference rooms that can be reserved for a variety of events. The area is dubbed the Grandstand Event Center.
“About 900 people seated is what we think we can get in here for chamber dinners, weddings, military balls — we’ve actually already had a lot of military balls reaching out to us about possibly holding them here,” Abner said.
The event center also features a patio area that overlooks the harness racing track.
A simulcast room with several screens will broadcast horse races from all over the world and allow patrons to place wagers on self-serve betting terminals.
As for the hotel, there are five floors with 128 rooms, including one-king-bed rooms, double-queen-bed rooms, several suites and on the top floor, there will be a 2,000-square feet presidential suite with its own pool table.
Abner said the facility anticipates being able to open 24 hours on Fridays and Saturdays, and from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays.
He noted that a brief ribbon cutting with local officials will be at 10 a.m. Sept. 18 and the gaming floor will open to guests after.
Abner said getting the facility built and ready for guests has been a long but fun process.
“We’re just looking forward to getting open and having guests come in and see the beautiful facility and enjoy it,” he said. “We will have social distancing and masks will be required. Health and safety is of the upmost importance, but we believe we can do all of those things and still provide a fun environment.”
New Era Editor Zirconia Alleyne contributed to this report.