Churchill Downs Inc. buys stake in Saratoga Harness; deal could lead to shares in 3 to 5 more casinos

Churchill Downs Inc. and Saratoga Harness Racing Inc., already partners in a bid for a casino near Albany, N.Y., announced Wednesday that the Louisville-based casino and racetrack company is buying a quarter stake in the Saratoga Casino and Raceway, a harness racing track.

The deal could give Churchill Downs Inc. a financial interest in three to five more casinos.

Under the five-year contract, Churchill Downs will manage the Saratoga Casino and Raceway, which has slot-like video lottery terminals, and the Saratoga Casino in Black Hawk, Colo.

The agreement must be finalized and approved by state regulators in New York and Colorado.

In May, Churchill Downs proposed a $300 million "world-class destination resort casino," in East Greenbush, just east of Albany, including a 300-room hotel, restaurants and entertainment areas, and 20,000 square feet of retail space.

If a joint bid for the East Greenbush casino is successful, Churchill will manage that, too. Winners of the bids for four New York casino licenses in three regions are scheduled to be announced this fall.

Churchill and Saratoga Harness submitted one of 17 bids; Saratoga Casino and Raceway separately partnered with casino operator Rush Street Gaming for a proposed casino resort in Newburgh.

Churchill is negotiating to buy a 25 percent stake in Saratoga Harness, which means that Churchill Downs Inc. could have a stake in two bids for New York casinos.

"We are proud to take an ownership interest in Saratoga Harness Racing Inc., which shares with us a passion for offering premier racing and gaming entertainment," said Bill Carstanjen, president and chief operating officer of Churchill Downs Inc. "We are excited to expand our operations into New York and Colorado and hope to become more involved in the Capitol Region if we are fortunate enough to be awarded a license to build and operate Capital View Casino & Resort."

Churchill also gets a piece of another casino in Kentucky: Saratoga Harness owns a minority interest in Ellis Park in Henderson, a Thoroughbred racetrack with instant racing terminals.

Churchill owned Ellis from 1998 to 2006, when it was sold to Ron Geary. Saratoga Harness acquired an interest in Ellis in 2012.

"We are very excited about the expansion of our relationship with Churchill Downs," said James D. Featherstonhaugh, secretary and chief legal officer of Saratoga Harness. "We look forward to a long and successful partnership between two iconic names in the racing and gaming world."

Saratoga Harness also owns a half-interest in the Gideon Putnam Hotel and Resort in Saratoga Springs.