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Gambling News by Gambling Headquarters

Friday, March 24, 2006

Hard Rock Sale Lures Bevy of Investors

 

 Peter Morton, owner of the Hard Rock Hotel, surely is getting just what he wanted -- a bevy of would-be buyers barking at his heels. As the tale falls into place, it seems Morton was approached by an investor, probably Station Casinos, that failed to meet his terms. Still, talks convinced him of the value of his holdings, including land that is ready for condominium development. That, plus the wandering gaze of a philanthropist in his early 60s and a son, Harry, who is said to have little interest in running the business, and he let word out he was getting proposals from buyers (meaning he wanted them).

The result is more interest than Morton can shake a fist at. The leader seems to be The Rank Group, to which he previously sold the Hard Rock Café. At least four other investors are said to be interested in joint ventures with Rank or as independent parties, we're told. Analysts say $750 million would get the deal done. But the analysts also say not to expect an announcement immediately as bankers, investors and investment advisers review a confidential "book" for the sale and as new bidders line up.

High rollers at Caesars Palace keep complaining, but the hotel-casino's management contends they are off base. Overall, Caesars has cut the number of slots in its casinos from 1,900 to 1,500, even if some areas seem more crowded with machines. High-end slot play is at an all-time high, with volumes up more than 20 percent in the past eight months. Also, Caesars points out that its new poker room is in an area not previously used for gambling, although high rollers say it could be used for table play and the traffic is mostly riffraff.

Loyal high rollers are probably complaining loudest about Harrah's Entertainment removing craps tables from the Forum Casino at Caesars Palace, and adding one craps table to the Palace Casino, for a net loss of three craps tables. Caesars has also added a roulette game that lets bettors place bets on computer screens, increasing the speed of the game and eliminating the need for dealers handling chips. Less manpower is necessary at the table since the dealer does not handle money or need to supervise betting with live chips.

China is once again proving to be very inscrutable. Counterintuitively, gaming revenues in Macau decreased 5 percent in January even though visitor volume increased 19 percent from last January. Insiders say the Chinese stay home on their New Year's, which fell in January this year vs. February in 2005. Also, more Macau visitors are going to the new Fisherman's Wharf instead of hitting the casinos.

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