Steve Ruddock Churchill Downs CA online gambling

California’s years-long flirtation with online poker has seen the formation of several partnerships between the state’s card rooms and tribal casinos and online gaming providers as the stakeholders prepare for the day an online poker bill is passed in the Golden State.

The most recent partnership that has come to light courtesy of the reporting of Chris Grove at has Churchill Downs teaming up with two popular California card rooms, Oceans 11 Casino and Crystal Casino.

Current partnerships

The pairing of Churchill Downs and Oceans 11 and Crystal Casino is one of several currently known or expected partnerships in California:

  • PokerStars has partnered with, the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, Commerce Casino, Bicycle Casino, and Hawaiian Gardens Casino.
  • party has partnered with the United Auburn Indian Community.
  • The Rincon Band of Luiseno Indians is expected to partner with their land-based partner’s partner, as Caesars (who operates the Rincon Casino) has paired up with 888 in both Nevada and New Jersey.

Additionally, the Pala Band of Mission Indians has created a proprietary online poker/casino platform (which has already been unveiled in New Jersey) through its subsidiary Pala Interactive.

The Barona Band of Mission Indians was also creating proprietary online poker software, but progress seems to have stalled on that front.

Churchill Downs building toward this day

Churchill Downs’ desire to get involved in legalized online gaming in the U.S. first came to light in February of 2012, when the company purchased Bluff Media. An announcement at the time of the sale on hinted at the company’s future intentions:

“CDI management believes this acquisition potentially provides the company with new business avenues to pursue in the event there is a liberalization of state or federal laws with respect to Internet poker in the United States.”

In July of 2012, the Nevada Gaming Control Board released a list of some 30 applicants for an online poker license in the state, Churchill Downs Interactive was on the list. CDI never acted on its Nevada license application, which has now lapsed.

In 2013 Churchill Downs sought and received tax incentives from the Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority to expand its Louisville headquarters by adding up to 50 high-paying jobs devoted to the company’s online gaming arm.

In 2014 the company’s ambitions in New Jersey came to light after Churchill Downs filed a lawsuit against Nicholas Ribis of NLR Entertainment. According to Churchill Downs, Ribis essentially stole $2.5 million fronted to him in order to broker the sale of the Showboat Casino in Atlantic City, something Churchill feels Ribis misled them about, overstating his capabilities.

The lawsuit also shed some light on Churchill’s iGaming progress to date, detailing expenditures of $10 million that went to online gaming, and the hiring of 30 employees devoted to developing their online gaming product. According to CDI Chief Financial Officer Bill Mudd, the company was spending about $1 million each quarter developing an iGaming product at the time.

More recently, in 2014 Churchill Downs acquired Big Fish Games, a social gaming provider. This acquisition signaled to many that despite setbacks in Nevada and New Jersey, Churchill’s attempts at breaking into the regulated online gaming markets in the U.S. were far from over, and likely not limited to regulated online poker/casino games.

What can Churchill Downs bring to the table

While Churchill Downs’ online gaming platform is untested, the company does possess a number of unique attributes.


There are few gaming companies that have as recognizable a brand as Churchill Downs, and even fewer that can boast an iconic brand like the Kentucky Derby.

CDI has the capability to leverage these brands in ways companies like Amaya/PokerStars, bwin, or 888 simply cannot.

On a separate front, CDI’s powerful brand could also help alleviate some of the concerns from banks who remain leery of processing online gaming transactions.

U.S. iGaming experience

Churchill Downs run the nation’s largest online horse racing site, In addition to experience in taking online wagers, CDI possesses a lengthy database of online gamblers it can market to.

Bluff Media

As noted above, Churchill Downs owns one of the most prominent online poker portals. In Bluff Media, Churchill Downs has a readymade affiliate website capable of reaching a broad number of poker players.

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Steve Ruddock
Steve Ruddock - Steve is one of the most recognizable names in the online poker media space. He brings his deep knowledge and equally deep well of opinions to his coverage at