NHL: License Isle of
Capri Casinos, or else…

Dec 19, 2006 5:51 AM

With decision time rapidly approaching, the National Hockey League continued to apply the pressure last week on Pennsylvania gaming regulators with warnings that the future of the Penguins rested on that decision.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman repeated his warning that if the Isle of Capri Casinos Inc. (ISLE) isn’t chosen for a slots license in Pittsburgh the team’s future will be in jeopardy.

Isle of Capri, one of three bidders for the Pittsburgh slots license has promised to build a $290 million arena to house the Penguins if their bid is chosen. The other bidders are Harrah’s Entertainment Inc. (HET) and gaming entrepreneur Don Barden.

Bettman’s warning came on the heels on an announcement by Jim Balsillie, the Canadian businessman, that he has withdrawn his offer to buy the Penguins from current owner Mario Lemieux.

Balsillie, whose company, Research in Motion, makes the BlackBerry wireless messaging device, had signed an agreement to buy the Penguins from Lemieux’s group for about $175 million. The deal was expected to be finalized prior to year end.

Exactly what caused Balsillie to withdraw his offer remained a mystery.

"All we know," said Penguins CEO Ken Sawyer, "is that he and the league couldn’t come to an agreement and he chose to give us a notice. The price and the terms, there was no problem there."

It is expected that the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board will announce its decision on Wednesday. Sawyer said he had no idea why Balsillie did not wait for the announcement before making his decision.

Balsillie is the second potential Penguins buyer to back out of the deal. Earlier, Toronto businessman Sam Fingold reached a preliminary arrangement to buy the team for about $175 million but subsequently withdrew.