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Churchill Downs is expanding into downtown Louisville. 

The company announced plans Thursday morning to open Derby City Downtown, a gambling venue that will have 500 historical horse racing machines, which look and operate like traditional slot machines but are treated differently under law. The development will also include three bars with a stage for live performances. It will be located in the US Bank Building, right across the street from the Kentucky International Convention Center.

At a press conference, Churchill Downs CEO Bill Carstanjen said the company will partner with community groups to hire minority contractors and employ residents from under-resourced neighborhoods.

“Our true vision for Derby City Downtown is for this project to be a win for everyone in our community with an impact for years to come,” he said.

Stanford Williams, Jr., who heads the Economic Inclusion Department for Messer Construction, said the goal is to have at least 20% of construction contracts go to women- and minority-owned businesses. 

Historical horse racing machines have been allowed to operate in Kentucky for a decade because, unlike casino gambling, results are based on previously-run horse races. The Kentucky Supreme Court ruled in 2020 that many of the machines were illegal, which sent industry leaders and politicians scrambling. The General Assembly amended state law earlier this year to clarify that the slot-like machines are considered pari-mutuel wagering, the most common form of horse track betting. 

The new development will be the second historical horse racing machine venue for Churchill Downs. The company opened Derby City Gaming on Poplar Level Road in 2018. It’s currently working on a $76 million expansion of that development, which will include a hotel.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said Derby City Downtown will help revitalize the downtown economy, which took a hit during the pandemic due to restrictions on in-person work and entertainment.

“As the economic engine of the region, our downtown also is our metropolitan region center of almost 1.4 million people,” Fischer said. “It is an employment center, an entertainment center, a tourism center, and, as with most cities in America, the way that downtown goes, so goes the city.”

Churchill Downs plans to begin construction this year with an opening date of early 2023. The project is expected to create roughly 350 construction jobs and 100 permanent jobs. 

 

Roberto Roldan is the City Politics and Government Reporter for WFPL.