In its pursuit of bank customers in nontraditional locations, Star Banc Corp. is going to the races.
The Cincinnati-based banking company last week opened what is said to be the nation's first full-service branch at a horse racing venue: Churchill Downs.
It is part of an expansion in Louisville, Ky., which Star entered this year with the acquisition of Great Financial Corp.
Churchill Downs is the site of the Kentucky Derby each May. One of this year's highlights will be the Breeders' Cup races Saturday.
"The fact that it is a thoroughbred racetrack is secondary," said John Taylor, regional chairman of Star Bank in Louisville. "It's a continuation of our philosophy to make it easier to do business with Star Bank, wherever that may be."
In addition to the new office, Star has installed seven automated teller machines and plans a second branch early next year. Fifth Third Bancorp of Cincinnati also has teller machines at the track.
The Star Bank branch would primarily serve customers and employees of the track but would be accessible to people who live in the neighborhood.
The branch's hours would largely follow those of the track.
Star, which would double in size next month upon merging with Firstar Corp. of Milwaukee, said it plans to open the second Churchill Downs branch in the stable area to serve horse owners, trainers, and track employees.
Several years ago, banks were hesitant to put ATMs at racetracks or casinos because of possible guilt by association with the gaming industry and the appearance of encouraging wagering.
"The fear was people would come in and spend their life's savings," said David W. Cole, professor emeritus of finance at Ohio State University's Fisher College of Business.
With gambling's growing popularity, banks have fallen over themselves to install teller machines, which can generate hefty fee income.
"The mores of our country have changed," Mr. Cole said. "We've changed how we allow gambling, where we allow gambling."
Ethics are "clearly a consideration, but we continue to underscore we are not going to deviate from our loan and credit policies," Mr. Taylor said, meaning Star will not offer instant loans for gambling purposes.
Mr. Cole said he is not surprised that a company like Star would open a branch at Churchill Downs, adding that banks are going where their customers are.
A spokesman for Star said the company is seeking other nontraditional banking locations.
Of 460 branches, it has 90 in supermarkets, 10 inside companies, and 10 in retirement centers.