Churchill Downs, the company that owns the Kentucky Derby, is getting a huge growth boost from digital

  • The company has increased by 243 percent in the last five years thanks to new ventures and digital growth.
  • Churchill Downs CEO says the Kentucky Derby is not the company's most profitable venture, but it has allowed them to enter the online space and grow with new companies.

Large-scale digital growth has helped Churchill Downs, the company that owns the Kentucky Derby, has helped feed a massive expansion in the last five years, Churchill's top executive told CNBC in an interview.

"Day-to-day racing, that's not the greatest business in the world," CEO William Carstanjen told CNBC on "Power Lunch" this week. Boosted by digital, Churchill's has seen explosive growth of more than 200 percent, he said.

"But it was our entry into casino gaming through our licenses for race tracks. And also, it lead us into entering the online space, which is also a wonderful growth engine for our company," Carstanjen added.

In fact, the publicly-traded company, which began with a single racetrack in central Kentucky more than a century ago, now has five racetracks, six casinos and gaming companies.

Meanwhile, share prices have surged by 63 percent in the last year, compared with a 10 percent increase in the S&P 500 during the same period. The company currently has a market cap of about $3.7 billion. In March, Churchill Downs purchased two casinos, one in Pennsylvania and one in Mississippi, for nearly $230 million.

And, as the U.S. Supreme Court continues to deliberate on sport wagering, and whether the practice should be legal nationally, Carstanjen said this will only continue to increase revenue.

"The size of the market increases so much that it makes up for pockets of cannibalization," he said, calling legalizing sports betting "a great thing."

Carstanjen added: "We like the businesses we're in currently, but the growth of digital and the growth of new products in the digital space is a huge opportunity for us potentially."

Marvin Abrego rides Frac Daddy during the morning excercise session in preparation for the 139th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky.
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Marvin Abrego rides Frac Daddy during the morning excercise session in preparation for the 139th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky.

Of course, the company's most notable — and original — venture is the Kentucky Derby. The 144th race takes place on Saturday in Louisville, Kentucky, and is expected to draw a crowd of about 155,000. Twenty horses compete for the $2 million cash prize in the event nicknamed "The Most exciting two minutes in sports," because of the race's duration.

"An event like the Kentucky Derby is a wonderful financial thing as well as a culture thing," Carstanjen said.

The Kentucky Derby airs on NBC, which is owned by CNBC parent company Comcast, Saturday, starting at 2 p.m. ET.