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Gaming Guru

Jeff Simpson
 

Agassi, Former IGT Exec Invest in Las Vegas Casino

4 December 2003

LAS VEGAS -- Count tennis star Andre Agassi and former International Game Technology Chairman Chuck Mathewson as prospective owners of downtown's Golden Nugget.

The two Nevadans are each investing $5 million in Poster Financial Group, the company Golden Nugget buyers Tim Poster and Tom Breitling created to buy the downtown casino and its Laughlin sister property, Poster said.

The Las Vegas entrepreneurs completed a $155 million debt offering last month, meaning the $215 million purchase could take place as soon as January.

With its financing secure and its management team lined up, only state gaming regulatory approval stands between Poster Financial and ownership of the two Golden Nuggets.

Poster expects the sale and licensing request to be on the Nevada Gaming Control Board's January agenda. If recommended by the board, the deal would be considered by the Nevada Gaming Commission at its Jan. 22 meeting in Las Vegas.

"Our financing is completed and our money's in escrow," Poster said. "We are optimistic we'll be on the January (regulatory) agenda. If so, we'd hope to be able to (complete the purchase) on Jan. 22 or shortly thereafter."

Poster and Breitling traveled to 16 U.S. cities in November, pitching their vision for Golden Nugget to investors and fund managers.

Their road show generated such strong interest in Golden Nugget debt that they sold $155 million rather than the $140 million they had earlier planned to sell, at an 8.75 percent rate, maturing in 2011.

The offering was fully subscribed on Nov. 18.

"The road show experience was a tremendous amount of work, with meetings all day, sometimes with two or three cities in a day," Poster said. "Our general reception was extremely positive, and 8 3/4 was way below what everyone forecasted."

Golden Nugget's location is an advantage, Poster believes.

"This is no spin: Downtown is a huge benefit to us," he said. "If you're going to market on the Strip, there's tremendous competition. We get 40,000 or 50,000 people a day walking past the Golden Nugget, and the Golden Nugget is (downtown's top property). I'd much rather be a big fish in a small pond."

Poster and Breitling said they originally intended to own all of Poster Financial Group's equity, but they decided to offer Agassi, Mathewson and former Expedia executive Rich Barton the opportunity to invest in the company.

"We had no intention of bringing on partners, but the phone kept ringing," Breitling said.

The five equity investors and their ownership shares are: Poster, invested $18.75 million for a 37.5 percent stake; Breitling, invested $18.75 million for a 37.5 percent stake; Agassi, invested $5 million for a 10 percent stake; Mathewson, invested $5 million for a 10 percent stake; and Barton, invested $2.5 million for a 5 percent share.

Mathewson, Agassi and Barton each bring the ownership group distinct advantages, Poster said.

Mathewson and Poster talked about the Golden Nugget purchase a couple of times, and the IGT chairman emeritus offered to invest.

With Mathewson's track record at IGT and his knowledge of the slot business, their decision was easy, Poster and Breitling said.

The property already has the state's best average daily slot win at about $190 per machine, and it records that number without the efficiency-boosting ticket-in, ticket-out cashless technology.

Agassi's name recognition and marketing savvy are expected to also be a big plus for the Golden Nugget, although Poster said plans are still undefined.

"Andre and I have been friends since we were kids," said Poster. "He was very familiar with our plans. Andre's an incredibly smart guy, very attuned to business. He's very articulate, and knows what's going on."

Mathewson already is licensed as an IGT executive, and Agassi already has a restricted license because he and Breitling own a restaurant with slots.

Mathewson, Agassi and Barton as well as Poster and Breitling will have to be licensed as owners of the two Golden Nugget properties.

Poster said the new owners intend to focus on gaming.

"It's a gambling casino," Poster said. "That's what it should be. The city's gotten away from that."