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Churchill eyeing more casinos, online gaming

by Joe Arnold

WHAS11.com

Posted on June 15, 2012 at 3:32 PM

Updated Friday, Jun 15 at 10:40 PM

LOUISVILLE, Ky (WHAS11) -- Churchill Downs, Inc is pursuing the purchase of more casinos and the development of online gaming sites as the gambling corporation continues to diversify.

"We had a great, record setting year in 2011," Churchill Downs, Inc Chairman and CEO Bob Evans told shareholders on Thursday.

Churchill reported record revenues despite a continued decline in thoroughbred wagering.  Evans cited Jockey Club statistics that show on track wagering is down 28 percent from its peak in 2003.

"That's nine years ago," Evans said.  "So we've been in a downward trend for nine years... pretty serious stuff."

The corporation is enjoying growth with casinos in Florida, Louisiana and Mississipi and horse betting online on the Churchill-owned TwinSpires.com.

"The percent of our total revenues that come from our racing business - you can see that's gone down over the last several years," Evans explained to investors, "And meanwhile the percent of our revenues and profits that have come from gaming and our online businesses... have gone up."

Churchill and a partner plan 2,500 video lottery terminals at a new gaming and harness racing operation north of Cincinnati.  The facility is scheduled to open in 2013, pending litigation over the legality of the slot machine-like VLT's.

"The total project cost is expected to be around $225 million," Evans siad.  "I'd rather be investing that money in Kentucky but we don't have that opportunity yet."

Evans said while Churchill continues to wait for expanded gambling in Kentucky, the corporation will expand its own gambling portfolio.

"We continue to look closely at every casino that's up for sale as well as considering additional joint venture opportunities," Evans disclosed.

Churchill is also expanding its online gaming presence beyond betting on races, building Bluff.com in advance of the legalizatin of online poker, and developing "Luckity.com," which promises "fun, simple to play games" with cash payouts.

"Luckity plays like a social game," Evans said, "but pays like a real money game."

In Louisville, Evans' buzzwords are "top-flight racing and entertainment." 

Downs after Dark night racing on selected dates continues to draw crowds triple the size of racing on comparable days.

This year's Derby and Oaks set wagering records.

By moving the corporate headquarters to Hurstbourne Parkway, Evans says the racetrack is making room for an ultra-premium seating area he calls "The Mansion."

"It will be on sale for the 2013 Derby so we'll have to tell the world what it is, I'm looking forward to that," Evans said, declining to address speculation that the project will also sacrifice the sixth floor spacious press box.

Churchill Downs is refining its public approach on the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission's raceday ban on an anti-bleeding medication.

As the Lasix issue moves to the legislative committee process, a Churchill Downs spokesman said it will continue to engaged in the process and will work to educate lawmakers on the likely impact on Kentucky's horse industry if other states do not enact similar restrictions. 

Some trainers have predicted an exodus of trainers and horses.

"If the other states follow us to do the same thing, we're okay," Evans told WHAS11.  "If they don't and leave us here on kind of an island by ourselves, it's going to be tough.  I think the trainers are probably right."

Shareholders approved a $1.1 million dollar bonus for Evans and a $5 million incentive plan for top executives.
 

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