Churchill Downs Inc. Forming Technology Team

Churchill Downs Inc., under the leadership of chief executive officer Bob Evans, is forming a team that will address technology-related issues for the racetrack company.

Evans, who took over as CEO from retiring Tom Meeker in mid-August, also said during a Nov. 8 conference call on third-quarter earnings the company will get to work on opening a slot-machine parlor at Fair Grounds after the Louisiana racetrack opens for live racing Thanksgiving Day.

Evans, in his first conference call with analysts and investors, said he'd like to focus on technology and reinventing the core product of horse racing.

"We're building a core technology team in the Silicon Valley of California," Evans said. "We'll be meeting with you early next year to fill in the details of our strategy."

Evans wouldn't comment further other than to say the team initially would have six to eight members.

Fair Grounds will reopen after having to scrap its 2005-06 racing season in New Orleans and offer a shorter meet at Harrah's Louisiana Downs because of damage from Hurricane Katrina. Business in the New Orleans area, however, has been brisk at Fair Grounds' off-track betting parlors, which have about 700 video poker machines.

A timeline for construction of the slots parlor at Fair Grounds hinges on a decision on where the devices will be housed, Evans said.

"The issue is primarily New Orleans and the devastation that has occurred, and when a sufficient population will be back," Evans said. "We're looking at a couple of different alternatives" including building out the existing grandstand or constructing a separate slots parlor.

"I would expect in about a year, we'll be in business," Evans said.

One analyst on the call said a Harrah's-owned land-based casino in New Orleans is doing record numbers post-hurricane, and pressed CDI officials for a start-up date for construction.

"Do I think there is demand? Yes," Evans said. "Do I have confirming data? No. We'll make a decision here in a short period of time."

Fair Grounds will have about 700 slots. CDI chief financial officer Mike Miller said the company isn't ready to discuss projected revenue and profit from the devices.

CDI also is putting together a strategy to improve business at Arlington Park, but officials wouldn't discuss details. Business this year was impacted by an unusual number of on-track breakdowns and short fields.

"We're early in that process," CDI chief financial officer Mike Miller said. "It's going to be unfolding in the next short months."