Everyone wants Aztar

For years, Aztar was something of a dark horse among casino companies. While the companies that have become MGM MIRAGE and Harrah’s got most of the headlines (with justification), Aztar quietly kept the Tropicana on the Strip open, continually expanded the one in Atlantic City, and owned three other casinos that rarely get into the news. But since the announcement that it would be acquired by Pinnacle, Aztar is suddenly the hottest thing in casino news: no less than three suitors have emerged, and others might not be far off. From Reuters:

Ameristar Casinos Inc. on Monday offered to buy casino owner Aztar Corp. for $1.5 billion, topping offers by Colony Capital LLC and Pinnacle Entertainment Inc.

The acquisition would give Ameristar casinos in the key gambling centers of Las Vegas, Nevada and Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Ameristar offered to pay $42 per share for Aztar and assume roughly $700 million of Aztar debt, making the bid worth about $2.25 billion.

Aztar shares were up $2.46, or 5.9 percent, to $44.45 in midday New York Stock Exchange trading, surpassing the Ameristar offer price.

The Ameristar bid was only a 1 cent premium to Aztar’s Friday closing price of $41.99. Aztar’s stock has risen more than 19 percent since March 13, when Pinnacle first bid on the company.

Real estate firm Colony Capital LLC has offered to buy Aztar for $41 a share, a source familiar with the situation said last week. Colony already owns Hilton-branded casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, as well as other properties.

It would be the latest in a string of major acquisitions by Colony, a private equity fund that earlier this year joined Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal in buying Canada’s Fairmont Hotels and Resorts Inc. (FHR.TO: Quote, Profile, Research).

Colony Capital’s reported bid for Aztar eclipsed an offer of $38 per share made by Pinnacle Entertainment.

Pinnacle is based in Las Vegas, but has no casinos there. Its properties are based elsewhere in Nevada, as well as in Indiana, Louisiana and Argentina.

Pinnacle Chief Executive Dan Lee has said he envisions redeveloping Aztar’s Las Vegas Strip property at a cost of $2 billion to $3 billion.

Representatives from Pinnacle were not immediately available for comment. Colony and Aztar declined to comment.
Stock Market News and Investment Information | Reuters.com

Whoever gets the company, it’s clear that the Tropicana LV’s days are numbered.

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