$127 million deal gives Churchill Downs almost half of the online horse betting market

Kentucky's major horseracing group, Churchill Downs Inc., has signed a $127 million agreement to purchase the Burbank, California-based online betting site Youbet.com.

Along with its existing online betting site Twin Spires.com, the deal reportedly gives Churchill Downs almost half of the $14 billion horseracing market in the United States.

Online betting, made possible in US horseracing by controversial carve-outs in federal legislation, appears to feature high on Churchill's program, with chief exec Bob Evans saying he expects wagering to increase in future. Last year, about 10 percent of the $14 billion bet on horse racing in the U.S. was online.

The Youbet acquisition will be paid for by both cash and stock, with shareholders in the online company getting 97 cents a share in cash for each Youbet.com share, plus 0.0598 shares of Churchill stock. Based on Churchill's closing stock price of $31.57 on Wednesday, that gives a value of about $2.86 a share, or a premium of 19 percent.

Once the deal closes, Youbet shareholders will own 16 percent of Churchill stock.

Evans plans to maintain Youbet.com as an independent company, commanding around 30 percent of the total online market for betting on horse races, according to the Oregon Racing Commission. TwinSpires has about 21 percent.

The newly merged company's biggest competitor will be Betfair's TVG, which also has about 30 percent of the market.

There are some negatives in the Youbet package, principally the company's ownership of United Tote, which last year lost $11.2 million and owed $18 million in 2007, according to regulatory filings. And Youbet itself has lost money for the last three years, ending 2008 down $4.5 million.

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