LOUISVILLE — Without the ability to offer alternative gambling to patrons, the future of Churchill Downs Inc.'s Chicago-area racetrack is in doubt, and the company's flagship Louisville track may further reduce racing dates.
"You can't run on hope," CEO Bob Evans said after the company's annual shareholder meeting Thursday. "If we get to the point where you know 'not racing' is the best answer, well that's the best answer. But we're not starting there, and I hope we don't get there."
Two of the company's four racetracks offer gambling: Calder Casino & Race Course near Miami and Fair Grounds Race Course in New Orleans. But neither Churchill Downs nor Arlington Park in Arlington, Ill., have been allowed to offer slot machines or other gambling alternatives.
Evans said the company is planning an internal review of its four racetracks and said it is difficult to justify racing at tracks that don't have slot machines or other forms of gambling to supplement purses.
In the case of Arlington, that track does not even have revenue sources like Churchill's marquee events — the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby.
Evans wouldn't say how long he thought Arlington could avoid dramatic cutbacks. Last week, Arlington announced $725,000 in cuts to stakes purses for 11 races and the elimination of another, citing declines in out-of-state betting.
Last year, racetracks accounted for 53 percent of Churchill's pre-tax profit — down from 88 percent in 2006. Online betting and casino-style gambling accounted for nearly half the revenue last year.
Separately, Evans said Churchill's purchase of the Youbet.com account wagering company that takes bets online and by phone will mean additional jobs in Lexington.
The Lexington call center for Churchill's own account wagering firm, TwinSpires.com, will increase to about 90 full-time jobs from the current 40, he said. Other part-time positions will be added as well.