Columbia Sussex bids $47 per share for Aztar Corp.

Apr 18, 2006 4:53 AM

Columbia Entertainment, the gaming affiliate of privately held Columbia Sussex Corporation, joined the bidding war for Aztar Corporation Inc. (AZR) on Monday, pushing the price up to $1.69 billion or roughly $47 per share.

Analysts suggested the new offer would price the Las Vegas Strip land on which sits the aged Tropicana Hotel/Casino at more than $20 million per acre.

Aztar directors said that after consulting with their legal and financial advisors, they plan to negotiate with representatives of Columbia Entertainment, thus pushing aside three previous bidders, Pinnacle Entertainment Inc. (PNK), that began the bidding with $38 per share; Colony Capital LLC, whose offer was approximately $41 per share, and Ameristar Casinos Inc. (ASCA), with a bid of $42 per share.

Wall Street investors reacted immediately to the new bid, pushing the share price of AZR to $46.76 within minutes of the stock market’s opening on Monday. It dropped a bit later in the day to $46.31 per share.

Also taking advantage of the new offer were investors in Riviera Holdings Corp. (RIV), whose shares jumped to $24.20, in anticipation of a more lucrative offer for its prized real estate.

A successful purchase would provide Columbia Sussex with its first exposure to Las Vegas Strip gaming, although the company is licensed in Nevada with gaming operations at the Westin Las Vegas Casuarina Casino, and the River Palms Casino in Laughlin, and two Northern Nevada properties, Caesars Tahoe Casino and Lake Tahoe Horizon Casino.

The company also has gaming facilities in Louisiana and Mississippi.

Prior to entering the gaming business a few years ago, Columbia Sussex developed a string of hotel operations under such brand names as Marriott, Holiday Inn, Fairfield, Horizon, Radisson, Renaissance and Sheraton.

Macau contract

Progressive Gaming International Corporation (PGIC) scored a major entry into the lucrative Macau gaming market Monday when the company revealed it had received a contract from Galaxy Casinos in Macau for its good and services.

Galaxy Group, one of three Macau gaming license recipients with Las Vegas Sands Corp. (LVS), and Wynn Resorts Ltd. (WYNN), plans to install Progressive Gaming’s CasinoLink Enterprise Edition and its Table Management System at Galaxy Starworld Casino, one of four casinos being operated by Galaxy in the rapidly expanding Macau gaming market.

Initially, Galaxy Starworld will have 300 slots and 300 table games in operation.

Fair Grounds

After assessing the damage at New Orleans Fair Grounds racetrack caused by Hurricane Katrina, and evaluating the marketplace, Churchill Downs Inc. (CHDN) has decided to repair and reopen the track this fall.

Last week, the company applied to the Louisiana State Racing Commission for an 81-day meeting to begin on Nov. 23 and continue through March 25 of 2007.

The previous race meet in New Orleans was cancelled because of the storm damage and the racing was relocated to Harrah’s Louisiana Downs in Bossier City, La.

Churchill Downs bought the track two years ago for $47 million with the intention of building a racino. However, no decision has been announced as yet relative to building a home for the slot machines.

Seeking talent

MGM MIRAGE Inc. (MGM), in the process of building its multi-billion dollar Center City entertainment complex in the heart of the Las Vegas Strip, has caught the attention of the Boston media with its intentions of attempting to corral some of the top talent from Harvard U., Boston College and Boston U.

According to the Boston Herald newspaper, John Shigley, executive vice president and CFO of MGM Grand Hotel & Casino, plans interviews with undergraduate and graduate students in Beantown, looking to get the best and brightest to "Go West Young Man," as Horace Greeley advised years ago.

Shigley was quoted as saying, "The No.1 thing we look for is common sense. We try to find smart people with good, common sense."

Starting salary was given as between $60,000 to $80,000 annually. However, it was noted that the top 20 MGM MIRAGE company executives earn more than a million dollars a year.