PA casinos continue to change hands with new forms of gaming coming to the state
Online Poker Report

Churchill Downs Buys Presque Isle Downs, CEO Cites PA Online Casino Opportunity

churchill downs presque isle

Churchill Downs Inc. is now the proud owner of a Pennsylvania casino. And that appears to be the company’s entry point into online casinos and sports betting.

It’s the third Pennsylvania casino to change hands in recent months. Penn National acquired Meadows Racetrack and Casino, while Boyd Gaming bought Valley Forge Casino.

Here comes Churchill Downs

CDI announced this week that it is buying Presque Isle Downs & Casino in Erie. The company is best known for the Kentucky track that bears its name. It also owns racetracks and casinos in several states and  offers online horse betting via the site TwinSpires.com.

CDI CEO Bill Carstanjen explained why CDI acquired Presque Isle:

“Presque Isle will give us a foothold in Pennsylvania which has recently passed legislation authorizing real money online gaming.”

PA passed a gaming expansion law in 2017 that legalized online poker, casino games and sports betting, among other things.

CDI also announced it was purchasing Lady Luck Casino in Vicksburg, Miss this week. Both that and Presque Isle are owned by Eldorado Resorts, Inc.

The purchase of Presque Isle is subject to approval of the PA Gaming Control Board. CDI said that the deal was expected to close in Q4 of this year.

A closer look at Presque Isle

Presque Isle opened soon after PA authorized casinos, throwing open its doors in February 2007. What does it have?

  • 1,600 slots
  • 32 table games
  • A poker room
  • Thoroughbred racing, with approximately 100 live race dates each year.

Presque Isle is one of the smallest casinos in the state in terms of revenue.

Online gambling and Churchill Downs?

As its CEO said, online casinos are definitely on CDI’s radar. Its experience with online wagering at TwinSpires has the company ready for an expansion of online gaming. There’s also this from the company’s website:

CDI’s investment in online wagering technology and customer support systems also positions the company to take advantage of additional Internet gaming opportunities, such as online poker, as those activities are authorized at the state or federal level.

How that would manifest is not immediately clear. In 2014, it also indicated that it was developing an in-house platform. The company used to own a social gaming platform that included free-play casino games, called Big Fish Games. It sold that subsidiary at the end of 2017.

Short of its own product, it would have to establish a PA online casino partner. The company’s entrance to the PA market may mean it already has a deal lined up, or at least knows what it will do when it comes to iGaming. Online casinos could launch later this year in PA, pending implementation of regulations.

CDI once had a partner for online poker in California, but legislative efforts in the state have stagnated.

Sports betting too

Sports betting — which PA also legalized in 2017 — makes a lot of sense for CDI. Tracks have been champing at the bit to offer single-game wagering should the US Supreme Court strike down the federal ban in the New Jersey sports betting case.

It would be a no-brainer for CDI to offer sports wagering at Presque Isle when PA launches sports wagering, possibly this year or 2019, pending the court ruling.

CDI owns properties in Kentucky, Mississippi and Louisiana, which all have active sports betting legislation.

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Dustin Gouker
- Dustin Gouker has been a sports journalist for more than 15 years, working as a reporter, editor and designer -- including stops at The Washington Post and the D.C. Examiner. He has played poker recreationally for his entire adult life and has written about poker since 2008.