Churchill Downs Is Bringing A Casino-like Venue To Downtown Louisville

Churchill Downs Incorporated is continuing its expansion.

On Thursday, the company announced plans to open a new, 43,000-square-foot “historical racing machine” venue in the heart of the downtown tourist district at 140 S. Fourth Street, which also covers the corner of West Market — adjacent to the Kentucky International Convention Center.  

The casino-like venue will be called Derby City Gaming Downtown and will initially include around 500 historical racing machines — which directly resemble slot machines — plus a “fresh-air gaming area,” 200 parking spots and three bars. Construction will begin later this year, with an anticipated opening in 2023.

Churchill Downs has been investing heavily in gaming venues over the past few years in Louisville. In 2018, it opened the original Derby City Gaming, which also primarily features the historical racing machines, on Poplar Level Road. Earlier this summer, it announced that it will pour another $76 million into the Poplar location, with a 135,000-square-foot expansion that includes a hotel. That project is also expected to be completed in 2023.

The company estimates that the downtown move will create 450 new jobs, 100 of which will be permanent positions. Churchill Downs Incorporated is also pledging $1 million to the West End Opportunity Partnership, which is collecting money for a controversial, new tax increment financing district planned for The West End. Bill Carstanjen, CEO of CDI, said that he thinks the new location will be mutually beneficial for the company and the community. 

“CDI is committed to investing in the city of Louisville and today we are particularly excited to announce this new downtown entertainment venue,” Carstanjen said in a statement. “Our HRM expansion will be a win for the entire community in the Louisville area and will create $10 to $12 million per year in additional purse money for Churchill Downs Racetrack. It is important that Louisville is a city that is thriving — a great place to live, work and visit and we are committed to helping create economic vibrancy for every area of our community. The West End Opportunity Partnership and our collaboration with OneWest can help us responsibly and sustainably achieve that vision.”

Democratic State Sen. Gerald Neal, who championed the bill to start The West End TIF, said this is a positive investment. 

“I commend the leadership at Churchill Downs for taking this meaningful step in support of the West End Opportunity Partnership and for encouraging other local corporate citizens to follow suit,” Neal said. “By taking action to address the inequities and disparities in our local communities, we are helping to make our Commonwealth a better place for all Kentuckians.”

Casino gambling is currently illegal in Kentucky, but, because the machines used at Derby City Gaming include numbers from historical horse races, the company has argued that they fall under parimutuel wagering, the type of gambling that is legal in Kentucky. In fall of 2020, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that historical horse racing gaming does not fall under parimutuel wagering, but, in the last legislative session, Senate Bill 120, which has been since signed by the governor, moved to put the machines in clear legal status. 

Now, as investments follow that legislation, Mayor Greg Fischer thinks Derby City Gaming Downtown will significantly boost the area. 

“Downtown is our community’s center, and as the economic engine of the region, our downtown also is our region’s center,” Fischer said.

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