CXO

A winning bet: An executive combines horse racing with IT

The marriage of thoroughbred racing and technology is big business. TechRepublic talked to the vice president of IT at the world's most legendary racetrack, Churchill Downs.


It’s called “the most exciting two minutes in sports.” The Kentucky Derby is the first jewel in the Triple Crown of thoroughbred racing. It’s an event that is rich with traditions that go back 126 years. Even so, information technology is changing this event, as it’s changing just about every aspect of the gaming industry.

Recently, I found myself lucky enough to be invited to the Kentucky Derby. I immediately said, “Cool! This will give me a chance to meet Eric.”

Eric Bibb, vice president of information systems for Churchill Downs Incorporated.


Eric is Eric Bibb, a TechRepublic member and vice president of information systems for Churchill Downs Incorporated. I gave him a call, and to my delight, Eric could spare a few moments for us on Friday, the day before the Kentucky Derby.
Most people recognize the name Churchill Downs, the racetrack that is the home of the Kentucky Derby. What many people don’t know is that Churchill Downs Incorporated is much more. The company owns and operates several other facilities throughout the country—including three other racetracks and the Sports Spectrum , an off-track betting facility in Louisville, KY.
TR: What’s the best part of your job?

Eric: Horse racing. I really love horse racing. It’s very interesting, from the personalities that you see to learning about the horses. The animals are obviously beautiful. The fact that I can bring technology to an entertainment industry is exciting. I’ve worked in transportation, banking, plastics, and manufacturing. This is, by far, the least conservative of those and the most exciting.


TR: With all of the horses and old-fashioned pageantry, most people don’t think of high tech when they think of the Kentucky Derby. Can you tell us how you and your team play a part in this event?

Eric: We deal with the basic things, like local area networks, admission systems, and track management. We are also involved with the tote systems and their interfaces as well as the settlement systems. We’ve even demoed systems where you can have palm computers to do your wagering anywhere within the facility. We’ve done high tech demonstrations before, and obviously you have to look at where the most bang for the buck is.

We’ve looked at a lot of different things for advancing the wagering capabilities for the customer here and increasing the availability of our product, like simulcasting and the ability to gather all that graphical information on the screen. I don’t know if you’ve seen it. When you wager, you have the odds down the board and the statistics. And what we do is consistent, from Churchill to all of our properties, Hollywood Park, Ellis Park, Hoosier Park.


TR: Tell us about your background and how you became the vice president of information systems at Churchill Downs.

Eric:I was born and raised in Louisville, so an opportunity to come back home and work for one of the most prestigious companies in Louisville and [one that's] well known across the world—-I couldn’t pass it up.

I’m a graduate of Purdue University School of Engineering. My first job out of college was with Mobil Chemical Company in Rochester, NY. I left them to go to work as the data center manager for NationsBank Credit Card Services in Norfolk, VA. After spending two years there, I took a new job with ATC Leasing, which allowed me to move back to Louisville. ATC Leasing provided the information services for Active Transportation, which is one of the largest minority-owned transportation companies in the country. ATC transferred me to Wisconsin after two years in Louisville. I was looking to come back to the Louisville area and to expand some of my experiences at a senior-level position in IT when this opportunity came across my desk. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work in an environment that is so exciting as well as technical. That’s my background. I’m still a techie at heart.


TR: Over the last few years, wagering has become a lot more exciting. There are a lot of different things you can do, exactas, trifectas ….

Eric: The exotic wager.


TR: Yes, the exotic wager. How does technology play a role in Churchill Downs being able to provide such wagering?

Eric: Actually, technology doesn’t really play a heavy role in the types of wagers. What we do is poll our customers. Two departments that are really strong here with our customer base are marketing and community relations. They have a lot of input into our wagering product. Our corporate marketing staff really looks at what types of wagers are attractive to our customers.

As far as technology is concerned, we put the highway there for the customer, but the types of wagers are not really an IT function. Companies like United Tote, Am Tote, and Auto Tote take the wager for us. They do the settlements for those types of things.


TR: What kind of backups do you have in place to ensure that customers will be able to place their bets and cash their winning tickets?

Eric: We have hot backup servers on site, and we obviously have disaster recover scenarios and tape backups off site, if we had to reconcile. If there were a major catastrophe at a racetrack, wagering would cease. We would have the backup data that’s online and get those tapes off site as soon as possible to United Tote, AM Tote, and Auto Tote.



TR: How does the Internet play a part in the Kentucky Derby, now and in the future?

Eric: At this time, we’re looking at it as an informational tool. Gathering information about the horses—the horse's weight, the history of the horse, the pedigree. We’re using the Internet now to serve that to our customer base. I’m sure Internet wagering is always a hot topic, period. Not just for horse racing but for all types of gambling industries. Internet wagering is not something that we do today, but it is something that could make us a lot stronger.


TR: Did the Love Bug virus get you?

Eric: Yes. About 8:30 yesterday morning everybody really started getting hit with it. But we’re pretty diligent about virus protection. We have a smaller set of users here. It’s a big property but a small subset of users, and we’ve educated them on attachments they’re not sure about. But it only takes a couple of people to get that going. So all of our properties were hit. It took us a few hours to figure out what was going on with it. We took our Exchange server off-line for about three or four hours, but since then, we’ve been okay.


TR: Last question: Any Derby predictions for us?

Eric: I’m an Anees fan.

And they’re off!
The odds on Anees were 20-1 in the morning line. I would like to report that Eric is as successful at picking Derby winners as he is in his career. Unfortunately, his horse came in thirteenth. Better luck in the Preakness!
Pat Vickers is an MCSE currently with Sprint. To comment on this interview, please post your remarks below or follow this link to write to Pat.
It’s called “the most exciting two minutes in sports.” The Kentucky Derby is the first jewel in the Triple Crown of thoroughbred racing. It’s an event that is rich with traditions that go back 126 years. Even so, information technology is changing this event, as it’s changing just about every aspect of the gaming industry.

Recently, I found myself lucky enough to be invited to the Kentucky Derby. I immediately said, “Cool! This will give me a chance to meet Eric.”

Eric Bibb, vice president of information systems for Churchill Downs Incorporated.


Eric is Eric Bibb, a TechRepublic member and vice president of information systems for Churchill Downs Incorporated. I gave him a call, and to my delight, Eric could spare a few moments for us on Friday, the day before the Kentucky Derby.
Most people recognize the name Churchill Downs, the racetrack that is the home of the Kentucky Derby. What many people don’t know is that Churchill Downs Incorporated is much more. The company owns and operates several other facilities throughout the country—including three other racetracks and the Sports Spectrum , an off-track betting facility in Louisville, KY.
TR: What’s the best part of your job?

Eric: Horse racing. I really love horse racing. It’s very interesting, from the personalities that you see to learning about the horses. The animals are obviously beautiful. The fact that I can bring technology to an entertainment industry is exciting. I’ve worked in transportation, banking, plastics, and manufacturing. This is, by far, the least conservative of those and the most exciting.


TR: With all of the horses and old-fashioned pageantry, most people don’t think of high tech when they think of the Kentucky Derby. Can you tell us how you and your team play a part in this event?

Eric: We deal with the basic things, like local area networks, admission systems, and track management. We are also involved with the tote systems and their interfaces as well as the settlement systems. We’ve even demoed systems where you can have palm computers to do your wagering anywhere within the facility. We’ve done high tech demonstrations before, and obviously you have to look at where the most bang for the buck is.

We’ve looked at a lot of different things for advancing the wagering capabilities for the customer here and increasing the availability of our product, like simulcasting and the ability to gather all that graphical information on the screen. I don’t know if you’ve seen it. When you wager, you have the odds down the board and the statistics. And what we do is consistent, from Churchill to all of our properties, Hollywood Park, Ellis Park, Hoosier Park.


TR: Tell us about your background and how you became the vice president of information systems at Churchill Downs.

Eric:I was born and raised in Louisville, so an opportunity to come back home and work for one of the most prestigious companies in Louisville and [one that's] well known across the world—-I couldn’t pass it up.

I’m a graduate of Purdue University School of Engineering. My first job out of college was with Mobil Chemical Company in Rochester, NY. I left them to go to work as the data center manager for NationsBank Credit Card Services in Norfolk, VA. After spending two years there, I took a new job with ATC Leasing, which allowed me to move back to Louisville. ATC Leasing provided the information services for Active Transportation, which is one of the largest minority-owned transportation companies in the country. ATC transferred me to Wisconsin after two years in Louisville. I was looking to come back to the Louisville area and to expand some of my experiences at a senior-level position in IT when this opportunity came across my desk. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work in an environment that is so exciting as well as technical. That’s my background. I’m still a techie at heart.


TR: Over the last few years, wagering has become a lot more exciting. There are a lot of different things you can do, exactas, trifectas ….

Eric: The exotic wager.


TR: Yes, the exotic wager. How does technology play a role in Churchill Downs being able to provide such wagering?

Eric: Actually, technology doesn’t really play a heavy role in the types of wagers. What we do is poll our customers. Two departments that are really strong here with our customer base are marketing and community relations. They have a lot of input into our wagering product. Our corporate marketing staff really looks at what types of wagers are attractive to our customers.

As far as technology is concerned, we put the highway there for the customer, but the types of wagers are not really an IT function. Companies like United Tote, Am Tote, and Auto Tote take the wager for us. They do the settlements for those types of things.


TR: What kind of backups do you have in place to ensure that customers will be able to place their bets and cash their winning tickets?

Eric: We have hot backup servers on site, and we obviously have disaster recover scenarios and tape backups off site, if we had to reconcile. If there were a major catastrophe at a racetrack, wagering would cease. We would have the backup data that’s online and get those tapes off site as soon as possible to United Tote, AM Tote, and Auto Tote.



TR: How does the Internet play a part in the Kentucky Derby, now and in the future?

Eric: At this time, we’re looking at it as an informational tool. Gathering information about the horses—the horse's weight, the history of the horse, the pedigree. We’re using the Internet now to serve that to our customer base. I’m sure Internet wagering is always a hot topic, period. Not just for horse racing but for all types of gambling industries. Internet wagering is not something that we do today, but it is something that could make us a lot stronger.


TR: Did the Love Bug virus get you?

Eric: Yes. About 8:30 yesterday morning everybody really started getting hit with it. But we’re pretty diligent about virus protection. We have a smaller set of users here. It’s a big property but a small subset of users, and we’ve educated them on attachments they’re not sure about. But it only takes a couple of people to get that going. So all of our properties were hit. It took us a few hours to figure out what was going on with it. We took our Exchange server off-line for about three or four hours, but since then, we’ve been okay.


TR: Last question: Any Derby predictions for us?

Eric: I’m an Anees fan.

And they’re off!
The odds on Anees were 20-1 in the morning line. I would like to report that Eric is as successful at picking Derby winners as he is in his career. Unfortunately, his horse came in thirteenth. Better luck in the Preakness!
Pat Vickers is an MCSE currently with Sprint. To comment on this interview, please post your remarks below or follow this link to write to Pat.

Editor's Picks

Free Newsletters, In your Inbox