By: Ken Ritter
New Jersey gambling regulators rejected bids last week from two casino company competitors to weigh in before deciding whether to give the last approval needed for a $17.3 billion corporate buyout that would create the world’s biggest casino owner and directly affect four of the nine casinos in Atlantic City.
Casino Control Commission Chairman James Plousis and Commissioner Alisa Cooper decided the Hard Rock Hotel Casino and the Ocean Casino Resort asked too late for time to comment before their votes, now scheduled Friday, on Nevada-based Eldorado Resorts Inc.’s bid to acquire Caesars Entertainment Corp.
The merger would give Eldorado control — under the name Caesars Entertainment Inc. — of about 52 gambling properties in 16 U.S. states, plus Caesars sites in the United Kingdom, Egypt, Canada and a golf course in the Chinese gambling enclave of Macau.
The Atlantic City properties include the Caesars and Harrah’s hotel-casinos now owned by Las Vegas-based Caesars Entertainment, and the Tropicana Atlantic City, owned by Eldorado.
In a move that two antitrust analysts told the commission reduced concerns about “undue economic concentration” in the local casino market, the Bally’s Atlantic City now owned by Caesars Entertainment and VICI Properties is being sold for $25 million to Rhode Island-based Twin River Worldwide Holdings.
Approval in New Jersey is the final hurdle for the deal announced more than a year ago, backed by billionaire American investor and Caesars Entertainment shareholder Carl Icahn and delayed by casino closures nationwide because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Federal Trade Commission accepted the plan June 26, after Eldorado agreed to satisfy antitrust concerns by selling properties in Kansas City, Missouri; in California near Lake Tahoe; and on the Gulf Coast in Louisiana.
One FTC commissioner voted no, citing projected Eldorado debt of nearly $13 billion and additional financial obligations to VICI Properties and another real estate investment trust, Gaming and Leisure Properties Inc.
Nevada casino regulators approved the buyout last week, followed by Indiana casino and horse racing regulators. Eldorado agreed to sell three of its five casinos in Indiana. Company executives also have floated plans to sell at least one Las Vegas Strip property.
Plousis and Cooper will make the decision in New Jersey. One commission seat is vacant after Vice Chair Sharon Anne Harrington retired June 30.