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Best of Howard Stutz

Gaming Guru

Howard Stutz

Ameristar Casinos chairman announces resignation

27 April 2011

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Ameristar Casinos Chairman Ray Neilsen announced his resignation Tuesday, saying he will step away from the Las Vegas-based company founded by his late father on May 5.

Neilsen said he would focus his attention on The Craig H. Neilsen Foundation, which his father established to focus on spinal-cord injury research and treatment.

A replacement was not announced.

The move ends the Neilsen family's control of Ameristar.

Craig Neilsen, an Idaho developer who built and ran the regional casino operator since the 1970s, died in November 2006. He was paralyzed in a November 1985 car accident while driving home from the company's casinos in Jackpot, near the Nevada-Idaho state line.

Ameristar now has eight casinos in Missouri, Colorado, Mississippi, Indiana, Iowa and Nevada.

"I am looking forward to a new chapter in my life, and I know I am leaving the company in the hands of talented and capable people," Neilsen said.

Ameristar, a Las Vegas-based regional casino operator, has been in transition since Craig Neilsen's death.

On April 19, the company completed the repurchase of 26.15 million shares of its common stock from Craig Neilsen's estate that was controlled by the foundation for $17.50 a share. The $457.6 million transaction represented 45 percent of Ameristar's outstanding shares and 83 percent of the estate's ownership in the company.

When the transaction with the Neilsen Foundation was announced in February, Ameristar officials said the move would leave public shareholders in greater control of the company. The company also expects to have a majority of independent board members within 12 months.

As part of the transaction, Ameristar refinanced more than $2 billion in debt. In December, Ameristar ended a four-month effort to sell the company.

David G. Schwartz, director for the Center of Gaming Research at University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said the Neilsen family's exit could put Ameristar back in play for potential buyers.

"It does seem like it's paving the way for an acquisition, but I'm not in the boardroom and not knowing all the personalities, it's hard to say what the final outcome will be," Schwartz said.

Ray Neilsen worked his way up through the operations of Ameristar's properties. He held management positions at the Jackpot casinos and was general manager of both Ameristar Casino Hotel - Council Bluffs (Iowa) and Ameristar Casino Hotel - Vicksburg (Mississippi).

When his father died, Ray Neilsen became co-chairman of Ameristar and later chairman.