For those who wondered if having a Triple Crown winner will save racing, Churchill Downs Inc. CEO Bill Carstanjen says probably not.
"We were, of course, thrilled to see a Triple Crown winner with American Pharoah after the 37-year drought ... we think it probably doesn't change the long-term economic trajectory of horse racing. But it certainly doesn't hurt either," Carstanjen told stock analysts on Thursday in a call to discuss second-quarter earnings.
He said that wagering on Thoroughbred racing in the U.S. was up 3.5 percent in the last quarter, but year-to-date wagering is essentially flat.
Churchill Downs saw record attendance, wagering and profits from the 2015 Kentucky Derby week, he said, along with high television ratings but "outside of Kentucky Oaks and Derby, racing remains a challenging business."
He said that Churchill plans to take lessons learned from The Mansion, the racetrack's exclusive posh digs for high rollers and rich guests, to create more premium Derby experiences at a variety of price points between The Mansion and Millionaires' Row.
Carstanjen also said that Churchill plans to use technology to facilitate easier wagering on very busy days through its online TwinSpires platform and mobile betting app.
TwinSpires, Churchill's advance-deposit wagering platform, saw a 9 percent increase, to $289.4 million, in handle for the second quarter that ended June 30, and a 6 percent increase, to $60.7 million, in revenue for the quarter. But Carstanjen said that isn't enough.
"From my perspective, we still have much work to do to maximize this business, and we will certainly look to apply knowledge and capabilities we have in Big Fish (Gaming) to TwinSpires," he said.
Big Fish Gaming, acquired by Churchill last year, was a bright spot on the Louisville company's quarterly balance sheet, with revenue of $104.5 million, second behind the racing segment's $155.4 million.
Carstanjen told analysts that the gaming company continues to perform as expected, with growth in the social casino and free-to-play games but declines in the PC-based premium games.
Social casino play did see a slowdown in growth that Churchill executives said is likely due to seasonality.
But president and CFO Bill Mudd pointed out that casino bookings — in-app purchases — grew by $11.5 million.
"We have 24 percent more paying users than the same quarter of last year, and they are paying 6 percent more," he said.
The big star in Big Fish's gaming portfolio continues to be Gummy Drop, a free-to-play game that is now averaging more than $300,000 in daily purchases by players, Mudd said.