Churchill Downs Inc. is investing about $60 million to build a historical race wagering facility in Louisville at its former Trackside training and simulcast wagering facility on Poplar Level Road.
The 85,000-square-foot facility will offer historical racing machines, also known as instant racing, that model games off previously run horse races. The announcement came after Churchill Downs (NASDAQ: CHDN) received conditional approval from the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission to establish historical race wagering during a meeting in Frankfort today.
“A state-of-the-art historic racing facility will allow us to deliver an exciting and compelling pari-mutuel product for our customers in Louisville,” Churchill Downs Racetrack president Kevin Flanery said in a news release. “This is a great opportunity for us to revitalize another area of our city while strengthening the commonwealth’s equine industry through larger purses and greater incentives for Kentucky breeders and owners. Stronger horse racing means a stronger Kentucky.”
In a phone interview following the announcement, Flanery told me Churchill Downs has been considering this option since the commission authorized historical race wagering several years ago, but it wanted to ensure it is competitive and can produce the type of facility the community will take pride in.
The facility will feature 600 historical racing machines, which are similar to slot machines, and a player’s club reward center. The reward center will offer perks for members, such as exclusive parking. And the complex will sport walk-up food venues with quick-service menus and a bar that will seat as many as 50 people alongside large televisions.
Construction of the facility will start later this year, and it is expected to open by the summer of 2018.
The project will create 450 jobs, including 250 temporary construction jobs. The other 200 full- and part-time employees will operate and manage the facility.
Churchill Downs said it will hire hourly and salaried employees in a number of designated areas, such as operations, marketing, finance, food and beverage, maintenance, information technology, human resources, security and administration. To find employees, job fairs will be held at the Trackside site and at Churchill Downs Racetrack.
Historical race wagering’s legality has been questioned at the state level for years, and a long-running court case challenging it remains pending in Franklin Circuit Court. Flanery said Churchill Downs’ general counsel has thoroughly reviewed the case and feels comfortable in moving forward on the facility.
Opponents have argued historical race wagering does not follow state regulations on gaming, but the option already has been adopted at Keenelandand The Red Mile in Lexington, Kentucky Downs in Franklin and Ellis Park Racecourse in Henderson, according to this report by the Lexington Herald-Leader. Turfway Park in Florence also has been approved for the option, the report said.
Flanery said final approval for individual machines will be required from the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, and the racetrack will work hand-in-hand with the commission on floor layout and facility design.
This announcement comes in the midst of a very busy time for Churchill Downs. The company recently relocated its advance deposit wagering service, TwinSpires, from Mountain View, Calif., to the company’s corporate headquarters at 600 N. Hurstbourne Parkway in Louisville.
The move cost about $2.2 million for the office expansion, and it is expected to create about 100 high-paying jobs.
Likewise, a hum of activity is circulating at and around Churchill Downs Racetrack itself. The racetrack has started a $37 million three-story addition that will add 1,800 seats in luxury suites, dining areas and a third-floor grandstand. That development will be finished in time for the 2018 Kentucky Derby.
Churchill Downs also has spent more than $13 million scooping up properties around the track, some of which will be used to expand parking.