Churchill Downs fast-tracks NJ online launch

2 November 2018

Churchill Downs Incorporated has signalled its US online gambling intentions after bringing forward its target launch date for New Jersey and buying a majority stake in a major Illinois casino.

The company, which operates the famous Kentucky racetrack, said it will bring its TwinSpires-operated mobile sports betting and casino to New Jersey in Q4 of this year after previously targeting the first quarter of next year. It has also acquired a 50.1% stake in Illinois’ Rivers Casino Des Plaines, citing online gambling opportunities in the state.

During the company’s Q3 report, CEO Bill Carstanjen said the company and partner SBTech are still awaiting the granting of licences in New Jersey. Churchill Downs will operate via an agreement with the Golden Nugget, Atlantic City’s most successful online casino.

“We are in the process of obtaining our company and key employee gaming licences,” said Carstanjen. “In addition, our gaming technology partner, SBTech, is in the process of getting their platform licensed. We believe we will be operational in the fourth quarter with the suite of online casino and sports betting products.

“As we’ve discussed previously, our TwinSpires team will be responsible for running our online wagering business utilising the SBTech platform.

“Our TwinSpires team includes strong talent from iGaming markets outside of the US with deep experience in sports wagering and online casino products.”

Churchill Downs reported a 12% increase in revenue for the three months to the end of September, with a decline in the operator’s racing business offset by growth in casino gaming. Revenue for the quarter grew to $221.3m, of which $105m was generated from the company’s casino business, while net income grew from $16.7m in Q3 2017 to $56.3m.

Churchill Downs is busy readying itself for New Jersey, has a path of entry in New York and Colorado after its deal with Saratoga Casino Holdings and is already taking bets in Mississippi, having launched its BetAmerica-branded sportsbooks at Harlow's and Riverwalk casinos during Q3. However, Carstanjen is also targeting other states.

In Illinois it will join with operator Rush Street Gaming for joint control of Rivers Des Plaines. Rush Street’s team will continue to manage the day-to-day operations of Rivers Des Plaines.

Carstanjen said the transaction reflects the company’s strategy of investing in gaming properties in populous states that may ultimately grant access to online casino gaming and sports betting to brick-and-mortar casino licence holders.

Carstanjen added that Pennsylvania, where the company owns the Presque Isle Downs, is another particular region of interest.

“We are also very interested in sports wagering [in Pennsylvania] and we will file for that licence when we have clarity on our transaction closing date,” Carstanjen said. “It is worth noting that a sports wagering license would allow brick and mortar sportsbook at Presque Isle Downs as well as an online offering available throughout the state.”