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Best of Liz Benston

Gaming Guru

Liz Benston
 

Harrah's, Horseshoe Agreement Official

22 January 2004

and Jeff German

LAS VEGAS -- Harrah's Entertainment Inc. today said it signed a definitive agreement to purchase Binion's Horseshoe in downtown Las Vegas and is working to re-open the historic hotel-casino.

Terms were not disclosed, though sources close to the deal have estimated it to be worth more than $50 million.

The transaction -- signed late Wednesday -- must first be approved by gaming regulators and is expected to close before the end of the first quarter.

Regulators have a process to expedite certain buyout transactions in a matter of days.

The speed of that process is ultimately up to regulators and Harrah's spokesman Gary Thompson said the company is "prepared to go before them as soon as possible to discuss our re-opening plans."

The Nevada Gaming Commission, which met this morning, didn't take any action on the deal.

State Gaming Control Board officials said they have not yet received an application from Harrah's for the purchase and re-opening of the casino, which is not surprising since the deal was wrapped up only Wednesday night.

Robert Faiss, the attorney representing Binion's owner Becky Behnen, said all of Binion's employees have been paid, all wagers have been paid and chips that were presented were redeemed.

Harrah's Chief Executive Gary Loveman said today the company expects to re-open the property "as soon as practicable." The hotel closed because of financial distress Jan. 9.

"We will immediately begin assessing the appropriate level of staffing necessary to ensure the viability of the property," Loveman said. Current Horseshoe employees will be given priority in restaffing the hotel-casino, he said. He also said the company would abide by terms of the property's union contracts.

Loveman also said Harrah's will begin contacting Horseshoe employees to discuss schedules and other details.

The hotel-casino employs about 900 people, of which more than 400 are represented by union contracts.

Behnen said the deal calls for Harrah's to take over the casino on Feb. 1 or Feb. 2.

"It's no longer going to be a family operation," she said. "It's going to be part of a big business."

"There's an element of sadness here, but now I can spend more time with my husband and my family," she said. "My greatest hope is that all of the employees who have been so loyal to the Horseshoe will return to work."

Harrah's also confirmed today that it will host the 2004 World Series of Poker at Binion's Horseshoe during its originally scheduled dates this spring.

The long-range future of the 52-year-old property is still uncertain.

Observers close to Harrah's have said that the company -- which ultimately wanted to secure the rights to the Horseshoe brand in Nevada rather than run an aging property downtown -- is expected to sell off the property to a new buyer.

Thompson said "it's too early to tell" what Harrah's will ultimately do with the property.

"We know what we want to do in the short term but we don't know what we're going to do over the long term," he said, declining further comment.

Also unknown is whether Harrah's would ultimately move the World Series of Poker to another location.

Harrah's, Horseshoe Agreement Official is republished from Online.CasinoCity.com.