Ten years later, Twinspires has come back home to Kentucky.
Louisville-based Churchill Downs Inc. (Nasdaq: CHDN) has completed the relocation of the advance deposit wagering service from Mountain View, Calif., to the company’s corporate headquarters at 600 N. Hurstbourne Parkway in Louisville.
With the move, about 70 high-paying jobs already have been filled, and CDI has spent $2.2 million to outfit an additional 15,000 square feet in the building, which is in the University of Louisville’s ShelbyHurst Office and Research Park. The company now has 50,000 square feet in the building as its anchor tenant and is expected to create another 25 Twinspires jobs in Louisville by year’s end. The jobs pay $75,000 to $110,000.
With the relocation, Twinspires now has 208 employees in Kentucky, including 140 or so in leased office space in Lexington. Churchill Downs CEO Bill Carstanjen said those jobs will remain in Lexington to keep a strong presence in the state’s two largest cities.
Not surprisingly, the bulk of the jobs are new hires, as only six to eight of Twinspires’ California employees made the move to Kentucky, according to Twinspires officials.
The Twinspires relocation was first announced during an earnings call by Carstanjen last August, and he said Tuesday that the move has been a year in the making.
But the idea got its start in 2014, when company officials started discussing the long-term future of the wagering platform. Carstanjen and other CDI officials conceptualized and founded Twinspires with five employees in Louisville in 2007. At the time, Carstanjen was the company’s executive vice president, general counsel and chief development officer.
Carstanjen said the company was moved to California shortly after its was founded to take advantage of the talent pool and IT experience in Silicon Valley, saying he did not have confidence that Kentucky had the tech talent a decade ago to meet the company’s needs. Last year, $1.1 billion in total handle, or 10 percent of total U.S. wagering on horse racing, came through Twinspires.
But a lot can change in 10 years. Carstanjen said Louisville’s economic development activity has helped created a larger and more robust tech environment in Louisville. And he believes the local tech scene is flexible enough now to help Twinspires stay competitive.
Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin praised the move, saying it is a trademark example of the type of jobs he wants to come to Kentucky as he works to establish the state as an advanced manufacturing and engineering hub.
Bevin also said it is fitting that an old and storied company such as Churchill Downs is investing in high-tech jobs and a sleek, modern office in Louisville’s East End.
The governor said he will look back and measure success for his administration when governors of other states are scratching their heads and wondering why their residents are moving to Kentucky for job opportunities.
Mary Ellen Wiederwohl, chief of Louisville Forward, Louisville Metro Government’s economic development arm, also praised Churchill Downs for its expansion. She said the city’s business services division is the fastest growing sector for Metro Government and has long-term potential to create jobs that will attract this type of talent from across the country.
Carstanjen said the decision was nothing but “positive energy” and that California’s cost of living and more expensive tax structure were not major factors in the relocation.
But Bevin said the money that will be earned through these jobs will have more purchasing power for its employees to buy larger houses and invest in the city’s vibrant arts and entertainment scene.
“That’s good for Louisville, and it’s good for Kentucky,” he said.
During the news conference, Bevin was asked about the possibility of expanded gaming in Kentucky, particularly casino gambling. Bevin said there is “no political will” for casino gambling by the Kentucky General Assembly, noting that it would take legislative action to legalize such a concept.
Bevin, a Republican, noted that his predecessor, Democrat Steve Beshear, made casino gambling a significant goal for his administration but was unsuccessful in a friendlier legislative environment. Today, the GOP controls both houses of the state legislature.
Carstanjen and CDI long have supported expanded gaming in Kentucky, but he told me after the news conference that the company doesn’t waste its time dwelling on what’s not available. He said a lack of casino gaming in Kentucky has not slowed the company’s ability to harvest all the possibilities available to it here.
“If you worry about what you can’t change, it will drive you crazy,” he told me.
Today, CDI has grown to include several horse-racing tracks and casinos as part of its portfolio. The company also owns totalizator company United Tote Inc. and Seattle-based video game company Big Fish Games.
Nationwide, CDI has about 4,000 employees, 676 of whom are based in Kentucky, either at the corporate office, Churchill Downs Racetrack, Twinspires or United Tote. The company’s East End headquarters has 200 or more of those employees.
When asked, Carstanjen said it us unlikely any of Big Fish Games’ roughly 600 employees will join Twinspires in Louisville. The company was founded and cultivated in Seattle, its executive team has long called Seattle home, and it is a decidedly West Coast company.
The company also has a larger mass of employees in a city where game development talent is widespread.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Carstanjen said.
Marty Finley covers economic development, commercial and residential real estate, government and sports business.
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