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Gambling News by Gambling Headquarters

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Harrah's, Pinnacle Swap Riverboat Casinos

 

Harrah's Entertainment and Pinnacle Entertainment agreed Monday to a swap of
hurricane-damaged riverboat casino properties. Harrah's will acquire the
Casino Magic in Biloxi, Miss.; Pinnacle picked up side-by-side floating
casinos in Lake Charles, La. The Las Vegas-based companies signed a
nonbinding letter of intent. The transaction is subject to regulatory
approvals. Harrah's spokesman David Strow said the deal was not a straight
swap of properties, but the companies declined to disclose financial
specifics.

Harrah's had previously announced it hoped to exit Lake Charles after its
two riverboat casinos were destroyed by Hurricane Rita on Sept. 24. In the
deal, Pinnacle will also acquire the 263-room Lake Front Hotel, which
Harrah's now operates.

"As we are focusing our Gulf Coast development efforts on Biloxi and New
Orleans, we felt it made sense to sell Harrah's Lake Charles," said Anthony
Sanfilippo, president of Harrah's Central Division.

Pinnacle operates L'Auberge du Lac in Lake Charles, which has dominated
western-Louisiana gaming since it opened last May. The bulk of Lake Charles'
out-of-state customers come from nearby Houston.

Pinnacle didn't comment on the deal, but analysts thought the company would
use the acquired riverboats to expand gambling operations at L'Auberge and
the company's casino in Bossier City, La.

Casino Magic in Biloxi was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina on Aug. 29.
Pinnacle had been weighing its options with the property. The swap gives
Harrah's a commanding presence in the rebuilding Mississippi Gulf Coast
gaming market.

Harrah's announced recently it would reopen a portion of the Grand Casino
Biloxi, which was also destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, this summer with a
renovated 500- room hotel and 35,000-square-foot casino.

The company hopes to announce plans for a new destination in Biloxi by this
summer.

The Grand Casino site is 27 acres and the Casino Magic site, directly to the
east, is 18 acres.

"We believe in the long-term potential of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and
are looking forward to returning to this vibrant market," Sanfilippo said.
"The site we are acquiring from Pinnacle will give us an even larger
footprint in Biloxi, giving us greater flexibility in creating a compelling
entertainment experience."

Shares of Harrah's jumped initially on the news, but finished the day at
$79.51, down 4 cents or 0.05 percent. Pinnacle shares closed at $30.71, up
$1.61 or 5.53 percent.

Bear Stearns gaming analyst Joe Greff said the deal was a good move for
Harrah's.

"We are positive on the transaction as we believe the deal relinquishes
Harrah's from a potentially expensive and difficult project in Lake Charles
and increases exposure in Mississippi, a lower tax rate and in our opinion,
more stable jurisdiction," Greff said in a note to investors.


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