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Stars shine for Horseshoe christening

May 15, 2001 10:25 AM

The glitterati were out in force for the grand opening - or rather the official name-change - of the Horseshoe Casino (nee Empress) on Lake Michigan in Hammond, Ind.

Ivana Trump, whose ex owns a few slots and tables on Lake Michigan himself, led a champagne toast to launch the May 4 ceremonies, which drew thousands by Horseshoe’s count.

The former Empress Casino is located just southwest of Chicago, and Windy City media turned out to get photos of the likes of retired Chicago Bears great Dick Butkus, reigning Miss America Angela Perez-Barakuio and actor Richard Roundtree, the original Shaft.

Not the least of the celebrities in attendance was Horseshoe boss Jack Binion, the shrewd and somewhat reclusive founder of the privately held company, which also owns riverboat gambling resorts in Illinois, Louisiana and Mississippi. Jack is the son of the legendary Benny Binion, who founded the Horseshoe on Fremont Street in Las Vegas.

The turnout may have taken some of the sting out of the forced sale of Horseshoe’s Joliet, Ill., riverboat (also an Empress boat) to Argosy Gaming last month. Binion parted with the property for a hefty $465 million after Illinois gaming regulators deemed Horseshoe unfit to hold a gaming license. The controversy concerned ethics violations connected to a contract the Empress signed last year. Regulators fined the casino $95,000.

The Horseshoe is up for a licensing renewal in Indiana this summer. The company says it is confident it will sail through without problems.

Horseshoe spent $11 million renovating the Hammond facility, adding a Bluesville nightclub and a steakhouse named Jack’s. Depending on the outcome of dockside gaming in Indiana, the property could see a major expansion running in the $100 million-plus range.

Money shouldn’t be much of an object for Horseshoe. The company reported a 24 percent increase in profits for the first quarter of the year. Horseshoe netted $25.3 million, compared with $20.5 million for the first three months of 2000. Cash flow, defined as earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA), was down 7 percent, from $73.2 million to $68.3 million. EBITDA is generally considered the benchmark for financial health in the gaming industry.

The Hammond riverboat led all the company’s properties in net revenues for the quarter.