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Best of Howard Stutz

Gaming Guru

Howard Stutz

Isle of Capri Casinos looks to re-enter Nevada

3 September 2010

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Regional gaming operator Isle of Capri Casinos took an initial step toward re-entering the Nevada market Wednesday, but executives from the St. Louis-based company weren't forced to pass a state geography quiz.

The Gaming Control Board recommended gaming license approval for Isle of Capri, which is purchasing one-tenth of 1 percent in a tiny Fernley casino. The small investment is being made to gain a foothold in the Nevada market should other opportunities arise.

Isle of Capri President Virginia McDowell said the company is actively looking at the state, either casino management contracts or the potential purchase of a property.

"When the cycle turns, we'll be ready to capitalize when the opportunity presents itself," McDowell told the control board. "We know the Nevada market."

Gaming Control Board member Randall Sayre drew laughs from the audience in the control board's hearing room when he asked McDowell to name six cities north of Tonopah. He didn't press for an answer.

Clearly, Isle of Capri's interest in Nevada centers on Las Vegas casinos, preferably a locals property. That move would fit the company's business model where the bulk of its customers in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Mississippi, Louisiana and Missouri come from within a 25-mile radius of each of its casinos.

Still, McDowell told Nevada gaming regulators about 80 percent of the customers within the company's 1.3 million-person database travel to Las Vegas at least once a year.

"We consider our business model to be that of a locals casino operator," McDowell said. "That's what interests us in Las Vegas."

McDowell wouldn't say whether the company had participated in the recent private auction to acquire the primary debt in M Resort, which could lead to a change in control of the property.

Earlier this year, it was learned that Isle of Capri signed an agreement with the primary lenders of Station Casinos to manage four properties if the Fertitta family had lost ownership in the reorganization process.

McDowell said the possible deal allowed Isle of Capri officials to put together an operational plan and take a more in-depth look at the Las Vegas market.

"We believe the opportunity will eventually present itself," McDowell said.

In the interim, Isle of Capri is exploring other expansion endeavors.

In June, the company bought the Rainbow Casino in Vicksburg, Miss., from Bally Technologies for $80 million in cash. Isle of Capri applied for a gaming license in Pennsylvania to operate what would be a small casino as part of the Nemacolin Woodlands Resort outside of Pittsburgh.

Isle of Capri was licensed in Nevada from 2000 to 2002 when it owned and operated the Lady Luck. The company sold the casino, which has since closed, and Isle of Capri retained the rights to use the Lady Luck name outside of Nevada.

Isle of Capri is traded publicly on the Nasdaq National Market, but 50 percent of the company is owned by the Goldstein family.

Patriarch Bernie Goldstein, who died last year, founded the company when he opened the nation's first legal riverboat casino in April 1991, the M/V Diamond Lady in Bettendorf, Iowa.

In August 1992, Goldstein opened Mississippi's first riverboat casino, the Isle of Capri Casino in Biloxi.