Buyout has Riv
‘all shook up’

Apr 11, 2006 5:12 AM

A fascinating angle continues to be mostly ignored in the reporting of the pending sale of the Riviera to a group that includes the owner of Elvis Presley Enterprises.

"The King" has long since gone to that big showroom in the sky, but his likeness and all the associated imagery may become part of a born-again Riviera Hotel.

Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Some people may actually believe "Splash" is good for another 20 years as the Riviera’s marquee entertainment feature, but I’m guessing Robert Sillerman, the savvy billionaire who built a fortune based on his understanding of pop entertainment, is not among them.

It may be awhile before we hear much official Elvis talk since Sillerman, who shelled out $114 million to acquire Elvis Presley Enterprises, and his partners have yet to receive shareholders’ approval for the right to put their stamp on the Riviera. (For more on this, see today’s Industry Insider.)

Sillerman is a co-managing partner of one of four investor groups that have proposed paying $17 a share for all outstanding stock not owned by Riv CEO William Westerman, who signed a previous agreement to sell his shares.

Sillerman’s credentials as an entertainment guru don’t stop with his investment in Elvis. He also owns a certain TV show that has done all right for itself — a little something called "American Idol."

He’s also been a major player in the world of concert promotions.

Sounds like a Vegas kind of guy.

But Sillerman and friends must be aware their offer can always be trumped by a higher figure.

Speaking of which, the Donald himself is busier than ever in Las Vegas just a couple blocks south of the Riviera on the Frontier property where his sold-out high-rise condo tower is jutting into the desert sky. It wasn’t long ago that he was the owner of a sizeable chunk of Riviera stock. That stock has since been sold.

I’ve been reminded, however, that Donald has been intently tracking recent events at the Riviera, which may remain on his radar screen, assuming he does not already have a plan to buy out Frontier owner Phil Ruffin.

No telling how many others are also interested in the Riviera as illustrated by the continuing rise in the price of its stock. Shares of Riviera Holdings Corp. breezed past the $17 mark and crossed $19 a share just a few days after the offer by Sillerman’s group, which is collectively known for the purposes of their proposal as Riv Acquisition Holdings, Inc.

In the meantime, whatever happens with a pending sale agreement of the Tropicana may produce shock waves at the Riviera. The price of stock in the Trop’s corporate parent Aztar had been bid up to $42 a share as of several days ago.

Whoever emerges as the victor among those three Aztar suitors, two of them are going to be in a state of shock. They’ll be unhappy but they’ll also have access to a lot of financing they may be ready to direct elsewhere.

Sillerman has not been the investor getting most of the ink as the prospects for this deal have inched forward. That honor has usually gone to Barry Sternlicht, the former Starwood chairman who is now very much in the big leagues as a real estate investor.

Sternlicht is no stranger to the Strip and the gaming business, although it is obvious he’s seldom thought of Las Vegas as his kind of town.

Not being a man with a feel for the gaming business, he botched his relatively brief ownership of the Caesars World properties back in the early 1990s. The volatility associated with the cash flow at a casino servicing high-end business almost gave him a heart attack, the way I hear it.

Not long after acquiring Caesars along with what he considered the much more desirable Sheraton hotel properties, he called a Las Vegas friend and wondered, in so many words, what in the world he was going to do with a place like Caesars Palace.

Sell rather quickly, as it turned out.

But here he is back again, armed, perhaps with a new attitude and at least one partner who seems likely to feel very much at home on the Strip.