Riviera interest heats up;
sale talks resume

Mar 28, 2006 6:22 AM

Will someone finally put the deal together to acquire the Riviera Holdings Corp. (RIV)?

Maybe some of the Las Vegas bookmakers should be putting up sale/no sale numbers”¦ the issue seems to just go on and go on.

Late last week Bill Westerman, chairman and CEO of the company, announced through a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that the discussions a special committee of the company’s board of directors had with a potential buyer had resumed.

The buyers’ group consisted of Flag Luxury Riv, LLC, Rivacq LLC and High Desert Gaming LLC. They expressed their interest in acquiring the aging property that sits on a valuable 26 acres on the north part of the Las Vegas Strip late last year, offering Westerman $15 a share for one million shares and taking an option on another 9,750,000 shares that Westerman owned.

What piqued the interest of shareholders was the fact that the group was being led by Barry Sternlicht, who founded and led Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide Inc. (HOT) into one of the world’s leading hotel owners and operators.

However, the discussions, that reportedly dealt with the potential buyers paying $17 a share, were terminated a few weeks later with Westerman notifying the SEC that he had no intentions of retiring and the group did not offer the $17 per share that was widely discussed.

This was the second major effort by a group to acquire the RIV. D.E. Shaw Lominar Portfolios LLC of New York made an offer two years ago and that effort also was turned down.

So who turned up on Monday? D.E. Shaw and his various companies.

The Riviera, again in an SEC filing, reported that the companies had increased their holdings to 983,000 shares or 7.9% of the total RIV shares outstanding.

There was no indication from Riviera management that the company’s board had renewed discussions with the Shaw firms relative to the possible acquisition.

Some observers felt the recent announcement by Pinnacle Entertainment Inc. (PNK) that it was acquiring Aztar Corp. (AZR), owner of the Tropicana Hotel/ Casino and its 34 acres on the south end of the Las Vegas Strip, caused potential buyers to again renew their efforts to get access to the Riviera acreage.

Kansas frustrations

Frustrations continued last week for casino supporters in Kansas, including Las Vegas casino operator Phil Ruffin, as lawmakers attempted to find sufficient revenues to fund a new three-year school plan.

A gambling measure that would have generated an estimated $152 million by permitting the state’s three racetracks to install a total of 5,000 slot machines, was defeated in the Senate by a vote of 20-16.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley supported the bill, citing the need for the additional revenue. But they were criticized for having accepted campaign contributions from Ruffin or companies with ties to him.

However, Ruffin, the owner of Wichita Greyhound Park, is a longtime Kansas businessman with an unblemished record, according to a supporter. Ruffin is the owner-operator of the New Frontier Hotel/Casino in Las Vegas.

With time running out, a new Senate bill has been introduced that expands gambling in a similar manner but specifies that the casinos be owned by the state’s lottery commission but be operated by private companies.

THE INSIDER: Up to 350 employees of the two Majestic Star casinos have lost their jobs since Don Barden, owner of Fitzgerald’s Hotel/Casino in downtown Las Vegas, bought the Gary, Ind., riverboat operated by Donald Trumps organization.

Bally Technologies Inc. (BYI) announced it has entered into an agreement with the owners of two New York Lottery video gaming facilities to install Bally’s marketing and bonusing technology.

Joe Greff, Bear Stearns gaming analyst, has boosted his ratings of Shuffle Master Inc. (SHFL) and MGM MIRAGE Inc. (MGM) from peer perform to outperform.

Shuffle Master announced it would hold its annual shareholders meeting on Monday, March 27 at 10 a.m. PST.

Atty. William Conaboy has resigned from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board because of "time constraints."

The Mississippi Senate has confirmed Gulfport banker John Hairston for a position on the Mississippi Gaming Commission.

Owners of the Greektown Casino in Detroit, Mich., have revised an expansion plan to include a $200 million 33-35 story, 400-room hotel and a 3,100-spot parking garage.

Cash Systems Inc. (CKNN) has appointed Andrew Cashin as its CFO and treasurer. Cashin previously was with Alliance Gaming Inc. (BYI).

Lakes Entertaiment Inc. (LACO) has been re-listed by the NASDAQ National Market and again trades under its original symbol.

The Massachusetts House of Representatives will debate a bill that would permit the state’s four racetracks to install and operate up to 2,000 slot machines in their facilities. A similar bill has already passed the Senate.

Boyd Gaming Corporation (BYD) has scheduled a conference call to release its first quarter, 2006, results on Tuesday, April 25 at l:30 p.m. PDT.

Nevada Gold & Casinos Inc. (UWN) has retained Libra Securities as its financial advisor to review "potential initiatives."

MGM MIRAGE Inc. (MGM) has completed the sale of senior debt in two parts, one for $500 million at 6.75% interest, and the second for $250 million at 6.875% interest.

Andrew Steinberg, chief gaming analyst at Morgan Joseph, has raised his target price for the shares of Isle of Capri Casino Inc. (ISLE) from $34 to $39, citing positive industry updates.

Scientific Games Corp. (SGMS) announced it has completed its purchase of the online lottery assets of Sweden’s EssNet AB for $60 million.