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Best of Howard Stutz

Gaming Guru

Howard Stutz

Former Pinnacle exec sees potential in Louisiana

4 October 2010

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- If you believe former Pinnacle Entertainment chief executive Dan Lee wants to acquire Louisiana's last available gaming license as a way of getting back at the company that forced his resignation nearly a year ago, think again.

For Lee, it's simply an opportunity to make what he believes could be "a whole lot of money."

Lee's newly formed Creative Casinos is one of four companies that submitted a bid for the state's 15th and final riverboat casino license.

Ironically, the license belonged to Pinnacle and was intended for Sugarcane Bay, a proposed hotel-casino to be built adjacent to the company's flagship L'Auberge du Lac in Lake Charles. Pinnacle canceled the project in April and gave the license back to Louisiana.

Now, Lee wants the document. He told Louisiana gaming authorities he would spend $400 million on Mojito Pointe, which would be built on the former Sugarcane Bay site. Lee said last week he has an option to acquire the Lake Charles location.

Obviously, Lee remains bullish on the market, which draws the bulk of its customers from Houston, about a four-hour drive west on Interstate 10. Lee is in the camp of gaming observers who believe Texas won't legalize casinos, which would essentially kill the Lake Charles clientele.

L'Auberge has the highest monthly gaming revenues of any of the state's riverboat casinos. The figures are more than double the amount produced by Isle of Capri's two Lake Charles casinos.

Lee believes Mojito Pointe can grow Lake Charles' gaming revenues and coexist with L'Auberge, which he designed and developed for Pinnacle.

"Houston has 6 million people," Lee said. "The entire state of Louisiana has a population of 4.5 million. L'Auberge is one of the most successful casinos built in the last 10 years. I think the impact of Mojito Pointe could be synergistic on the market."

Lee, who lives in Las Vegas, left Pinnacle after an outburst at St Louis County Council led to an investigation by gaming authorities.

A former Wall Street analyst and chief financial officer for Steve Wynn's Mirage Resorts, Lee was the visionary who spent seven years growing Pinnacle from a small casino operator into a regional gaming powerhouse with resorts in Louisiana, Missouri, Indiana and Northern Nevada. The sinking economy put the brakes on his plans for Pinnacle properties in Las Vegas and Atlantic City.

Lee paid the $50,000 application fee out of his own pocket. He has commitments from investors. The license is step one. Lee is confident Mojito Pointe will open in 2013.

"Nobody has financed more casinos than I have," Lee said.