A bit late out of the starting gate but not too many lengths behind, Churchill Downs Inc., the owners of the famed Kentucy racetrack that hosts the Kentucky Derby, have applied for an online poker license with the Nevada Gaming Control Board.
Joining about three dozen other applicants who are hoping to be players in the first wave of intrastate online poker sites in the Silver State, the Louisville-based company already has experience in the Internet wagering market. Through twinspires.com, the company offers advance-deposit online wagering for its many racetracks, which include Harlow's Casino Resort & Hotel in Greenville, Mississippi, Calder Casino & Race Course in Miami Gardens, Florida, Arlington Park racetrack in Arlington Heights, Illinois, and Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots in New Orleans, Louisiana. Twinspires also accepts bets on races from tracks throughout the country.
In 2010, Churchill Downs purchased Youbet.com and melded it into its twinspires website. In February of this year, the company bought Bluff Media, which focuses on poker-related content that includes BluffMagazine.com, as well as BluffPoker.com and Bluff.com. Known as the largest Internet horse-racing company in the United States, Churchill Downs is looking to expand its operations into online poker and has been “spending lots of time focusing on poker and egaming,” said Ted Gay, the company's chief strategy officer, according to eGamingReview.
“Nevada is an important regulatory body and we felt that it was important to be part of the process early on,” Gay said. The foray of Churchill Downs into online poker "will be a huge challenge, but we have been an online operator for several years, so in many ways we have an advantage over the land-based [casino] companies," Gay added.
Churchill Downs is reportedly negotiating with several providers, such as Ongame and Playtech, in anticipation of rolling out its own online poker network. Industry observers believe that the Kentucky company will form alliances with a number of partners to enhance liquidity on its network. As the owner of racetracks in several different states, Churchill Downs is seemingly poised to be in excellent position to be a major player in the online poker marketplace if interstate poker wagering eventually becomes a reality in the U.S.
Although Kentucky is known the world over for horse racing, the Bluegrass State has no land-based casinos and a recent proposal to allow casino gambling was shot down by the legislature. In addition to applying for an online poker license in Nevada, Churchill Downs Inc. is also lobbying heavily in California to be allowed an Internet poker license in the Golden State. More will be known on the stalled online gambling legislation in that state following the state legislature's reconvening after the summer recess on Aug. 6.
So far in Nevada, gaming regulators have approved licenses for Bally Technologies and International Game Technology to provide interactive online gaming. Shuffle Master has received preliminary approval and is expected to be formally licensed later this month.