Hilton would bridge Atlantic with $6.3 billion buyout

Oct 18, 2005 5:25 AM

Confusion over whether hotels are owned by Hilton Hotels Corporation (HLT) or Hilton Group PLC. could end if negotiations for the merger of the two companies are successful.

After several years of relative quiet, the king of the dealmakers during the 1990’s, Steve Bollenbach, is emerging to lead U.S.-based Hilton Hotels Corp. in its efforts to restore the Hilton name by acquiring the U.K.-based Hilton Group.

Financial experts on both side of the Atlantic were confident over the weekend that the $6.3 billion purchase would be consummated.

Not included in the sale is the Hilton Group’s Ladbroke bookmaking operation, the second largest wagering company in Britain. Under the deal being evaluated, the Hilton Group would have the company’s shareholders receiving the proceeds being offered while retaining its stake in Ladbroke’s thousands of betting shops.

Some 40 years ago, the Hilton operation was separated into two companies when the late Conrad Hilton sold its international holdings to the British group. Currently, Hilton Group operates around 400 hotels in various parts of the world.

Bollenbach became president and chief executive officer of Hilton Hotels in 1996.

Four years later, the two Hilton companies formed a "strategic alliance" that resulted in Bollenbach joining the board of directors of Hilton Group while David Michels, Group’s chief executive, joined the Hilton Corp. board. Actually, Michels succeeded Peter George in the chief executive’s post when George joined the Hilton Corp. management team.

Bollenbach’s career as a financial wheeler-dealer gained stature after he joined Donald Trump when Trump’s financial problems were mounting in the late 1980’s and Bollenbach helped him through the filing of bankruptcy protection for his gaming company.

This was the first of two bankruptcy moves by Trump. He recently successfully emerged from Chapter 11 once again.

Meanwhile, after two years with Trump, Bollenbach moved on to the hotel industry and spent time splitting Host Marriott Corp. into two entities; forming Promus Companies that at the time included Harrah’s and Embassy Suites and engineering Disney’s $19 billion acquisition of Capital Cities/ABC acquisition.

After being lured to the Hilton organization by Chairman Barron Hilton, Bollenbach was successful in acquiring Bally Entertainment in a $3 billion transaction. And even more surprising to the gaming industry, he succeeded in having Bally CEO Arthur Goldberg take a secondary position in the company.

In May 2004, Bollenbach was rewarded for his Hilton Corp. efforts by being named co-chairman with Barron Hilton.

Coast rebuilding

Multi-millions of dollars will need to be invested in rebuilding the Mississippi Gulf Coast casino industry but still in doubt is whether the gaming companies will be eligible for federal tax credits.

Opposition to casino rebuilding aid has been developing, led by a pair of Congressmen from Utah.

In discussing speeding up hurricane recovery, Utah Democratic Congressman Jim Matheson asked, "Are hospitals going to get rebuilt or are casinos? I don’t have to think too long about that one."

He was joined by Republican Rob Bishop who said through a spokesman that he sees "far better causes that we could be giving tax breaks to”¦better than casinos."

Frank Fahrenkopf, president of the American Gaming Association, pointed out that the casino industry employs 16,000 people alone on the Gulf Coast and "it doesn’t make sense to exclude the region’s largest employer from recovery efforts."

Machine orders

Lottery authorities in both New York and Rhode Island have authorized the placement of additional video lottery machines manufactured by International Game Technology (IGT).

Involved will be 217 additional machines to be placed at Saratoga Raceway; Finger Lakes Racetrack; Fairground Gaming and Mighty M Gaming at Monticello Raceway.

In Rhode Island, the machines will be installed at Lincoln Park and Newport Grand

THE INSIDER: Chalk up a victory for New Jersey’s fill-in governor. A state appeals court has ruled in his favor in his attempts to oust Linda Kassekert, chairwoman of the casino Control Commission and a political opponent to Gov. Dick Codey, from the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority.

Vicksburg, Miss., is becoming the location of choice for conventions that have been forced to move away from New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. Most recent conventions choosing Vicksburg are the Mississippi Medical Association and the Mississippi Numismatic Association.

While Hong Kong horse racing flourished, the U.S. tracks faltered in competition from other forms of gambling. Now, Hong Kong says business is dropping rapidly because of competition from legalized soccer betting and the new glitzy casinos in Macau.

Magna Entertainment Corp. (MECA) in joining with developer Rick Caruso in a mixed-use project covering eight acres adjacent to Golden Gate Field racetrack in Albany, Cal.

George Corchis Jr. has been named president of the storm-damaged Beau Rivage Resort & Casino in Biloxi, Miss., by owner MGM MIRAGE Inc. (MGG).

Penn National Gaming Inc. (PENN) says it plans to open its Bangor, Maine, slot machine facility on Nov. 4. The property, with 475 machines, will be called Hollywood Slots.

Analysts at Bear Stearns have upgraded Ameristar Casinos Inc. (ASCA) from underperform to peer perform.

Harrah’s Entertainment Inc. (HET) will discuss its third-quarter financial results on Thursday, Nov. 3 at 6 a.m. PDT. On the same day at l:30 p.m. PDT, Boyd Gaming Corp. (BYD) will announced its third quarter results. And at 2 p.m. PDT, Youbet.com has scheduled a conference call to discuss its financial results.