Louisville-based Churchill Downs Inc. announced Tuesday morning that its mobile betting subsidiary, TwinSpires, had relocated its headquarters to Louisville from Southern California, bringing more than 70 technology-focused jobs to Kentucky.
TwinSpires also is looking to add 25 new technology-based jobs with salaries ranging from $75,000 to $110,000, Churchill Downs announced.
“The real driver was, do we have the skills here? A business like TwinSpires is a fast-moving business. There’s lots of change in the internet space,” said Bill Carstanjen, CEO of Churchill Downs Inc. “We wanted to have the best and brightest of TwinSpires with us here in Louisville where we make decisions for the future of the business.”
When TwinSpires started in 2007, there wasn’t a big enough technology workforce in Louisville to fill the jobs, so Churchill Downs executives decided to build the business near the offices of tech giants such as Google and Apple in California. That has changed, however, officials said.
“Louisville enjoys a rich ecosystem now in IT training from our Code Louisville bootcamp programs to The Software Guild to, of course, our graduate-level programs at the University of Louisville and Bellarmine,” said Mary Ellen Wiederwohl, chief of Louisville Forward, the city’s economic development arm. “This is now a place where you can find the IT workforce that you need.”
The transition from California to Kentucky was just recently completed and included a $2.2 million investment on the part of Churchill Downs to build out 15,000 square feet of space at its corporate office at 600 N. Hurstbourne Parkway.
“Churchill Downs is a company I am very grateful is in Kentucky. I truly am. It’s an incredible company. It’s a well-run company, and today is a perfect example of the type of growth and the technology that is being brought to bear that is good for our community,” said Gov. Matt Bevin. “Iron sharpens iron, and we are getting an increasing number of high-tech jobs and people who are capable of fulfilling those jobs.”
Carstanjen said the lower cost of living and doing business in Kentucky didn’t play a major role in the decision to move the jobs.
Even so, Bevin noted that the low cost of living in the state would allow employees to stretch their salaries further, buying large homes or taking part in activities that boost the economy.
“It’s good for the economy. It’s good for Kentucky. People are making the kind of monies they were making living in places where it didn’t go as far,” Bevin said, adding that TwinSpires jobs also will help inspire other companies to bring more technology jobs to the state. “They will realize that if they can do it there, then we can do it there.”
TwinSpires started with five employees in California in 2007 and handled about 0.6 percent of bets placed on horse races in the United States. It lost $1.5 million that year before taxes, interest, depreciation and amortization.
In 2016, TwinSpires handled $1.1 billion in wagers on U.S. horse races, about 10 percent of the market, according to Churchill Downs. It has 208 employees, all of whom now are based in Kentucky, and it reported $55.2 million in earnings before taxes, interest, depreciation and amortization.
“I think TwinSpires has a tremendous upside. We see we are recruiting customers to horse racing who have never been customers of the track,” Carstanjen said. “We are for the first time able to demonstrate empirically that we are attracting new people to the game. So, when we can do that, the sky’s the limit.”
The announcement that the mobile betting site was moving operations to Louisville naturally gave rise to questions about whether the state legislature would seek to legalize gambling.
Bevin told media that he did not believe a gambling bill would pass the legislature.
“There is no political will for this in Kentucky right now, so to hypothesize on it is a waste of all of our time,” he said, stating that former Gov. Steve Beshear was unable to bring gambling to Kentucky despite what Bevin said was a “more favorable” environment.