Churchill Downs Inc. Issues Furloughs, Salary Reductions at 10 Locations

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Churchill Downs Inc. announced on Wednesday that it will begin temporarily furloughing workers at 10 of its properties across the country as a result of the orders by state and local governments to cease operations there because of the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Presque Isle Downs, which Churchill Downs Inc. purchased from Eldorado Resorts in January 2018, is one of 10 Churchill Downs facilities that will furlough workers because of closings tied to the COVID-19 outbreak, (Image: Coady Photography/Presque Isle Downs)

In a statement, the Louisville, Ky.-based company said the measures would begin immediately. Despite the action, the gaming company will still continue to provide health, dental, vision, and life insurance benefits to affected workers.

This is not a decision any company ever wishes to make, and it is particularly tough when those affected are deeply respected team members who have helped us build great facilities and strong businesses of which we are all very proud,” Churchill Downs CEO Bill Carstanjen said in the statement. “We look forward to welcoming our team members and customers back when we are able to reopen our properties and return to normal operations.”

Salaried employees that remain on the job will see their wages cut, with senior-level executives seeing the steepest cuts, both percentage-wise and dollar-wise.

The properties where workers have been furloughed are Arlington International Racecourse in Illinois, Calder Casino in Florida, Derby City Gaming in Kentucky, Fair Grounds Slots and VLT in Louisiana, Harlow’s Casino in Mississippi, Lady Luck Casino in Pennsylvania, Ocean Downs Casino in Maryland, Oxford Casino in Maine, Presque Isle Downs in Pennsylvania, and the Riverwalk Casino in Mississippi.

Other Churchill Properties Not Included

Properties not affected by the announcement include the company’s namesake track, Turfway Park in Northern Kentucky, and Miami Valley Gaming, a racino located just outside Cincinnati.

On the same day of the furloughs, the company announced Turfway Park would suspend its winter meet. It was scheduled to end this weekend, but Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear announced an order to close all “non-life-essential” businesses to in-person traffic by Thursday evening.

Churchill Downs purchased Turfway last fall and has plans for a multi-million dollar renovation to the track. While that work, which includes the demolition of the existing grandstand, is slated to begin after the meet ends, CDI is also looking at opening a satellite historical horse racing (HHR) venue in Newport, which is about 15 minutes from the Erlanger track in Kentucky’s Cincinnati suburbs.

The company also owns TwinSpires.com, an online horse racing wagering and syndication service; United Tote, which operates pari-mutuel wagering systems across the US and world; and BetAmerica, the company’s sportsbook and iGaming service provider.

Churchill also owns a majority stake in Rivers Des Plaines casino in Illinois, although Rush Street Gaming operates that casino. After the Illinois Gaming Board issues an order March 13 to close all the casinos for two weeks, a spokesman for Rush Street Gaming Chairman Neil Bluhm, in a statement to Casino.org last week, said all 1,500 employees would be paid during the temporary shutdown.

That included tipped employees, who would receive their average wage, the statement said.

The board last week extended the initial order to April 8.

Delay at Churchill Downs Looming?

While Churchill Downs the track is exempt from this furlough order, the Louisville track has been hit with some delays already because of the coronavirus, a month before its spring meet was expected to begin.

Earlier this week, the track announced that it would delay the opening of its stable areas until April 14. They were expected to open on March 17, but the pandemic led to the delay.

The track’s official starting date for the spring meet is April 25. However, since Keeneland has already canceled its spring meet and Churchill’s already announced that all Kentucky Derby week activities have been rescheduled to early September, it’s highly likely horse racing will not start on time in Louisville.

A formal decision, track officials have said, will come closer to the scheduled opening date, as they continue to confer with public health officials and government leaders.

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