Churchill Downs Inc., which has become increasingly dependent on casino revenue as racing stagnates, will be closely watching Florida's new push for resort-style casinos.
Twin bills filed Wednesday in Tallahassee would allow for three $2 billion destination resorts in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, in South Florida, which already have approved expanded gambling by referendum.
Churchill's Calder Casino & Racetrack in Miami-Dade and Frank Stronach's Gulfstream Park, which sits in both counties, would face stiff new competition with a tax advantage.
The tax on slot machines at those "racinos" would continue to be 35 percent, but the new casinos' slots would be taxed at 10 percent. In the bills filed in both Florida houses, the casinos also could have table games, such as blackjack and roulette.
"We didn't necessarily care for the initial drafts that were filed yesterday, but it's the beginning of a process, and there are lots of discussions of terms that would be good for us," Bill Carstanjen, president and chief operating officer of Churchill Downs Inc., said Thursday during a conference call with stock analysts. "What will actually happen ... is anybody's guess. We'll remain very, very active politically in that jurisdiction, and we'll monitor it carefully."
For the first nine months of the year, Churchill reported Wednesday that Calder Casino delivered $62.6 million in revenue, 39 percent of Churchill's gaming operations.
Stronach Group officials previously have said they are interested in being considered for a destination resort license; Churchill officials did not comment on that Thursday.
But Churchill has been paying down its debt steadily this year, leaving it in a good position for new borrowing. Churchill already has one standalone casino property: Harlow's Casino Resort & Hotel in Greenville, Miss.
During Thursday's call, Churchill chairman and chief executive Bob Evans said the track had no new announcements to make.
"It's no secret. We've said before we're interested in doing additional acquisitions in the regional gaming space and other areas," Evans said. "We continue to look at those. We're actively looking for opportunities to put capital to work at a reasonable return."
Florida legislators will begin holding public workshops on the bills next month, and changes are likely. Lawmakers have questioned why the potential casinos would need to be limited to just one area of the state, and tracks and other pari-mutuel interests are likely to lobby for reducing their tax rate to match that of new casinos.
Evans said Churchill also was preparing to move forward on another front, should Congress and the state legislatures act: online poker. "If Internet poker is legalized, we'll be prepared to compete, assuming we can get licensed," he said.