The parent company of Golden Nugget Atlantic City may possibly sell the casino or its Internet gambling rights after struggling with some “less than stellar results” in a slumping market.
Despite a $150 million renovation last year that transformed a formerly drab property into a glitzier casino, Golden Nugget has continued to lose money under the ownership of Houston-based Landry’s Inc.
Landry’s, the restaurant, entertainment and casino conglomerate controlled by Texas billionaire Tilman Fertitta, says it has been approached by the investment bank Houlihan Lokey to consider selling Golden Nugget or its Internet gambling rights “due to some interest from outside parties.”
“In light of our $200 million investment in this gaming asset and less than stellar results in the Atlantic City market, Landry’s indicated to Houlihan Lokey that it would listen to any proposal,” Tom Pohlman, Golden Nugget’s executive vice president and general manager, said in a statement Friday. “However, absolutely no decision has been made to sell the property or Internet gaming rights.”
Landry’s $200 million investment mainly includes the $150 million renovation project, plus the $38 million that Fertitta spent in 2011 to buy the former Trump Marina Hotel Casino. Using Fertitta’s money, Landry’s gave Trump Marina an extensive facelift last year to create the Golden Nugget.
“Unlike the majority of the Atlantic City casinos, Landry’s has no outstanding debt on the casino and remains committed to the Atlantic City marketplace and Internet gaming,” Pohlman said.
During the April 2012 ribbon-cutting ceremony for the renovation project, Fertitta spoke of his affection for Atlantic City and said he intended to be the Golden Nugget’s owner for a long time.
“Twenty years from now, you’ll still see me walking around this casino,” he told the crowd.
Golden Nugget has a completely remodeled casino floor, refurbished hotel rooms and an array of upscale restaurants, retail shops, lounges and nightclubs. It also has a posh $6.5 million spa.
In addition to the extreme makeover inside, the building’s once hospital-like exterior has been given a new gold-hued facade topped by a gigantic Golden Nugget sign.
Golden Nugget, however, has struggled with operating losses. In 2012, it suffered an $11.4 million gross operating loss and is $8.6 million in the red through the first six months of this year, according to figures compiled by the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement.
Analysts say those operating losses appear to give Landry’s a strong impetus for selling the casino. However, they are unsure just how much Golden Nugget might fetch because the losses make it difficult to estimate a sale price.
“I smelled it coming based on the financial statements. I knew it was a tough financial situation for them. The numbers weren’t looking good,” said Israel Posner, executive director of the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.
John Kempf, a casino analyst for RBC Capital Markets , said it is doubtful Landry’s would look to sell the property for less than its $200 million investment. One wild card for estimating the casino’s sale price is the potential value of Golden Nugget’s Internet gambling rights, he noted.
“There is a real bid for Internet companies to get in the Atlantic City market now, and that is what is making all these assets more valuable,” Kempf said.
Chad Beynon, a casino analyst for Macquarie Capital, said it might make sense for Golden Nugget to keep the casino-hotel property but sell off the Internet gambling rights. Given the potentially lucrative opportunities for online gambling in Atlantic City and the scarcity of licenses, Beynon believes an Internet license could be sold for $50 million to $100 million. He estimated the total revenue opportunities of Internet gambling to be $300 million annually for the market.
“I think the buying rights to the interactive license would be attractive,” Beynon said.
New Jersey is preparing for the scheduled Nov. 26 launch of Internet gambling. Atlantic City’s 12 casino hotels are lining up partnerships with Web companies to offer online wagering on slot machines and table games. Golden Nugget says it will offer Internet gambling under its own brand, using Bally Technologies as its main technology provider.
Internet gambling is regarded as one of the best hopes for reinvigorating the Atlantic City market, with revenue estimates ranging from $200 million to $1.2 billion annually. Atlantic City has seen its total revenue from slot machines and table games plummet more than 40 percent, from a peak of $5.2 billion in 2006 to $3 billion last year. Like the rest of the Atlantic City casinos, Golden Nugget has been harmed by the slumping market.
In addition to Atlantic City, Fertitta owns Golden Nugget casinos in Las Vegas, Laughlin, Nev., and Biloxi, Miss. In July, he announced the purchase of Ameristar Casinos’ development site in Lake Charles, La., as his next casino project.
Judging by his appetite for expansion, it appears Fertitta is committed to the casino industry. Beynon speculated that Fertitta may not want to break up his casino empire, which could mean that Landry’s ultimately may decide to keep the Golden Nugget Atlantic City — even if it sells off the Internet gambling rights.
“This company wants to be in the casino business,” Beynon said. “I truly believe they want to be in the business.”
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