Emerald Downs first opened its doors to race fans on June 20, 1996, with the inaugural 100-day meet running through November 4. It replaced Longacres Racetrack, which closed in September 1992 after sixty seasons of racing. Following the closure of Longacres, racing was not held in Western Washington from 1993–1995. However, Thoroughbred racing continued at Yakima Meadows and Playfair Race Course in Spokane during this time. Emerald Downs operated as a Limited Partnership from 1996 to 2015, with a group of investors led by Ron Crockett. In 2002, the land where Emerald Downs is situated was purchased by the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe for roughly $70 million. The Tribe purchased the track buildings and facilities and formed Emerald Downs Racing LLC in 2015. The Tribe has made a number of improvements since taking over the operation including a 1,150 square feet (107 m2) infield big screen. Emerald Downs celebrated its 20th anniversary Monday, June 20, 2016, with a special night of racing featuring many of the stars from the track's first two decades.
The Emerald Downs track is a one-mile (1.6 km) oval in the shadow of Mount Rainier. The track surface itself is made of geo-textile fabric, washed rock, coarse sand, and one-component track material. However, there is no turf course. The tote board is located in the center of the oval track.
The Emerald Downs infield is designed as a storm system that is sized to accommodate all storm runoff for the entire southern portion of the track property, including all rooftop surfaces as well as parking lots and the racetrack surface. Before releasing any water, Emerald Downs tests for turbidity and PH levels. Samples are also sent to a laboratory for further testing of dissolved oxygen, ammonia and fecal coliform levels. Finally, the water is released into Mill Creek at an engineered rate of discharge in order to help prevent flooding downstream from the track. Much of the infield is under water during the fall and winter, creating a home for ducks, geese, and other small wildlife.
The Emerald Downs Grandstand is a modern racetrack facility designed by EwingCole. There is general admission seating on track level, including a grassy park area with free children's activities on weekends (weather permitting). Outside on the third floor are box and reserved seats in the grandstand, as well as box and reserved seats on the fifth floor indoor clubhouse.
Pari-mutuel windows are located on each floor to place wagers. There are eight food stands and six beverage services throughout the facility.
Each of the 11 barns is a complete facility for horsemen with: 116 stalls; 22 tack and feed storage areas; six trainer offices; 12 hay and straw storage areas; 10 wash racks; 13 dorm rooms for grooms and six mechanical hot walkers. Each stall is 10 feet (3.0 m) by 12 feet (3.7 m) in size. For the horse's protection, each stall is padded with plywood wainscot kick-boards.