Casino company Harrah's gets buyout offer of $15 billion, or $81 per share

Monday, October 2nd 2006, 11:41 am
By: News On 6

LAS VEGAS (AP) _ Harrah's Entertainment Inc., the world's largest casino operator, said Monday it has received a $15.05 billion offer for the company from private-equity firms Apollo Management and Texas Pacific Group.

The private-equity firms are offering $81 per share in cash, a 22 percent premium to Harrah's closing stock price on Friday on the New York Stock Exchange.

After the news, Harrah's shares surged $9.52, or 14.3 percent, to $75.95 in midday trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

Harrah's said it has established a special committee of independent directors to review the offer and has retained UBS Securities LLC as an adviser, but had not committed to the deal.

``The Special Committee has not determined that a transaction is in the best interest of Harrah's and its stockholders,'' it said in a release. ``There is no assurance that Harrah's will enter into this or any other transaction.''

The company did not immediately respond to calls for comment.

Harrah's operates about 40 casinos, including Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, its namesake chain, Bally's, Horseshoe, Showboat and other brands throughout the country. The Las Vegas-based company beefed up its portfolio with last year's purchase of Caesars Entertainment Inc., giving it an upscale offering on the Las Vegas Strip.

Analyst Rod Petrik of Stifel Nicolaus said Harrah's shares had been relatively cheaper than its peers in the casino business for several reasons, ``perhaps none more important than its inability to crack into the growing Asian gaming markets.''

Casino companies also appeared cheaper than other shares, providing a prime target for private equity investors, he said in a research note.

Other gambling shares also surged on the news.

Shares in the world's second largest casino company, MGM Mirage Inc., rose $1.60, or 4 percent, to $41.09; Las Vegas Sands Corp. was up $1.06, or 1.6 percent, to $69.41, and Wynn Resorts Ltd. rose $2.68, or 3.9 percent, to $70.69.

Also on Monday, Harrah's said it entered a deal with a unit of Boyd Gaming Corp. to exchange about 24 contiguous acres that Harrah's controls on the Las Vegas Strip for Boyd's Barbary Coast Hotel and Casino. Financial terms for that deal were not disclosed.

The real-estate transaction is expected to close in the first quarter of 2007, subject to customary closing conditions, including government approvals. Boyd said it expects to see a non-cash gain of about $280 million in the quarter the deal closes.