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Howard Stutz

Aztar effort to sell Missouri casino encounters obstacles

30 October 2006

A deal by Aztar Corp. to sell its Missouri casino has been halted by that state's gaming commission, but company officials don't believe the decision will delay the casino operator's $2.75 billion buyout by Columbia Sussex Corp.

Aztar, which owns the Tropicana casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, agreed Aug. 17 to sell its casino in Caruthersville, Mo., for an undisclosed price to Fortunes Entertainment, a company operated by Argosy Gaming co-founder Lance Callis.

The Missouri Gaming Commission informed Aztar late Wednesday the licensing of Fortunes would not occur before Nov. 19, the deadline for the deal to be completed.

The gaming commission has directed its staff to appoint a supervisor to operate the casino so it would avoid being closed.

Aztar had to sell the casino before its deal with Columbia Sussex could be completed.

Nevada gaming regulators are scheduled to begin hearings into Columbia's buyout of Aztar next week.

Company spokesman Joe Cole, in an e-mail exchange, said he would not comment on whether or not the decision of Missouri gaming regulators could end the deal for the Caruthersville property.

"I can't speak for the Missouri folks, and I won't speculate," Cole said.

Aztar previously said a condition in the deal with Columbia Sussex was that it would close the casino or sell the property, which is in southern Missouri near the border with Tennessee. The gambling hall has 650 slot machines, several table games, an eight-table poker room, restaurant and bar.