CDI: No Hollywood Comment Pending Deliberations
by Tom LaMarra
Date Posted: 3/17/2005 11:13:24 AM
Last Updated: 3/18/2005 6:36:06 PM

Churchill Downs Inc. officials discussed the company's financial picture, alternative gaming initiatives, and the industry's tote system during a March 17 teleconference but shed little light on their intentions for Hollywood Park, the Southern California racetrack that is the subject of sale rumors.

CDI president Tom Meeker said his comments were based on concerns raised by horsemen, patrons, and employees. He said the "deliberation process" on Hollywood Park would be completed in a few months, and thereafter he would be "in a better position to comment."

CDI purchased Hollywood Park for $140 million in 1999. Its property value is believed by some to be more than double that amount.

Rumors have swirled that should Hollywood Park be sold, the track's racing dates could move to Santa Anita Park or Los Alamitos, a Quarter Horse facility, under a lease arrangement. A Los Alamitos official said the track would be issuing a statement the afternoon of March 17, but details as to the nature of it weren't available.

The Thoroughbred Owners of California is among the organizations concerned about the Hollywood Park situation. TOC president Drew Couto expressed dismay at being unable to get answers from CDI as to its intentions.

As for developments in South Florida, Meeker said the company remains committed to Calder Race Course even though it lost out on its bid for slot machines when Miami-Dade County voters shot down the question in a March 8 referendum. Meeker said CDI would continue to work with a coalition of pari-mutuel interests to win approval for gaming in 2007.

Florida lawmakers must now pass enabling legislation for slots, which were approved for four pari-mutuel facilities in Broward County. Gulfstream Park, owned by Magna Entertainment Corp., is one of them.

"Does the failure to pass the referendum in Miami-Dade make it difficult in Tallahassee? Yes," Meeker said. "Have we given up on South Florida racing? No."

CDI chief financial officer Mike Miller said the company spent about $5.9 million on legislative initiatives in 2004--$3.5 million in Florida and $2.4 million in California, where a referendum on racetrack slot machines was defeated. Miller said the company would remain aggressive in its approach to winning approval for alternative gaming.

Meeker said CDI continues to work with MEC, the New York Racing Association, the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, and Woodbine Entertainment to devise tote capabilities for the industry to improve security and efficiency. Meeker, who noted the industry has 48 hubs in the United States, called the current tote structure "archaic" and "dinosauric."

"Visa in one nanosecond can process as many transactions as we do for a whole year," Meeker said. "We're developing a platform for a major transformational change in the industry."

CDI has been rather active on the tote front, though details on how the existing tote companies would participate haven't been available. CDI, MEC, and others last spring announced plans to streamline the system, of which Meeker said: "I'm pleased to report we can see some light at the end of the tunnel."

In other business, the company reported it had raised about $20 million from the sale of personal seat licenses at Churchill Downs, its flagship track in Louisville, Ky. That topped projections by about $5 million. Churchill also sold 63 suites over its grandstand, and 16 more in a newer area located over its clubhouse.

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