The Department of Justice opinion on Internet gaming in December has spawned a flurry of activity in the United States. The memo pretty much cleared the way for lotteries to offer their games on the Net, should their state governments choose to go that route, as Illinois and New York certainly have. It also sent online poker advocates into action, intensifying their efforts to establish the country’s first legal games.


Among those seeing a bright future in online poker is Churchill Downs Inc., which on Friday announced it has acquired the assets of Bluff Media. Bluff, based in Atlanta, produces BLUFF Magazine and BluffMagazine.com, hosts a number of poker blogs and forums, offers news and editorial content about poker and runs a database that tracks and ranks poker players and tournaments.

Churchill has made it clear that it intends to further develop Bluff Media’s properties, providing a new source of revenue “in the event there is a liberalization of state or federal laws with respect to Internet poker in the United States.”

Thus, Churchill Downs continues down the diversification path. It currently operates four racetracks – its home track in Kentucky plus Arlington Park, Calder Casino & Race Course and Fair Grounds Race Course & Casino. Calder has slot machines and a card club; Fair Grounds has slot machines. The company owns TwinSpires.com, which is far and away America’s leading advance deposit wagering company using Oregon as a hub (handling more than $610 million over the first nine months of 2011). United Tote, one of the country’s leading totalizator suppliers, is another of Churchill’s holdings, as is Harlow’s Casino Resort & Hotel in Mississippi.

The company also holds a minority interest in Kentucky Downs, which last fall became the state’s first track to offer Instant Racing, and the pari-mutuel-based gaming machines have done quite well there.

Clearly, Churchill is further hedging its bets and has long ceased to be a purely racing company. In this day and age, that’s a good thing. As much as I love it, racing is a troubled industry – public perception can’t help but be negative in this era of animal rights causes. Old-school participants have been unable to instigate any structural changes that might stem its decline. Or accept anything out of the ordinary for that matter.

Just recently, when the owner of a flashy nearly-white champion racehorse, Hansen, who is headed down the Kentucky Derby trail, mentioned he might dye his horse’s mane and tail different colors, most in the industry reacted with shock and disbelief – how dare he disrupt “tradition!” But why not bring a little fun into racing? It won’t harm the horse one bit and what’s wrong if a colorful horse hits the front pages of national newspapers and Websites? It won’t solve the industry’s problems, but it would show at least a little creativity. And that is a good thing.