Plans for a merger announced this week by Eldorado Resorts and Caesars Entertainment will create the largest gaming company in the US and will undoubtedly have major ramifications on the Atlantic City casino industry.
The estimated $17.3 billion deal, including stock, cash and the assumption of Caesars’ debt, will not close until it is approved by shareholders and various gambling regulators.
That is not expected to happen until at least the first half of 2020.
When it does, the new Caesars Entertainment will hold up to 60 casino properties in 16 states under its massive umbrella. That will make Caesars far and away the largest gambling operator in the US.
Eldorado Resorts shareholders will end up with 51% of the new company and Caesars shareholders the other 49%. The new company will be led by current Eldorado CEO Tom Reeg and Chairman Gary Carano.
Should things remain as they are in Atlantic City, Caesars would run four of the city’s nine casinos.
Current Caesars Entertainment properties in Atlantic City include:
Immediate impact in Atlantic City
The impact of the merger will be felt immediately at Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City. Eldorado also announced an agreement to sell it and two other Harrah’s properties to real estate investment trust (REIT) VICI Properties Inc.
VICI was born out of Caesars’ Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization in 2015, which split Caesars into two companies. One was a REIT taking ownership of its casinos. The other an operating company that continued to manage the properties.
VICI Properties has since grown and now owns 20 Caesars casino properties, including the flagship Caesars Palace Las Vegas. The properties are all leased back to Caesars Entertainment, and Caesars runs operations.
Even further ramifications could be felt if the VICI deal fails to ease concerns that owning or managing almost 45% of all Atlantic City casinos is too large a stake in the local industry.
Casino Control Commission approval required
The merger still requires regulatory approval by the New Jersey Casino Control Commission.
It will ultimately determine if the merger represents undue economic concentration in the market under state gaming laws. In other words, too much control over the local casino industry by one operator.
NJ State Senate President Steve Sweeney issued a statement Monday expressing such concerns:
“This is a significant purchase that could have a real impact on New Jersey’s gaming industry, Atlantic City’s economy and the livelihoods of casino workers and others whose jobs rely on the financial activity of the gaming sector. At a time when the state’s gaming business and Atlantic City’s casinos are experiencing a strong comeback, we don’t want to allow the ongoing resurgence to be compromised by a deal that concentrates too much control in a national conglomerate.
“We should be just as concerned about the fate of individual casino workers and their families in Atlantic City as the stockholders are about their profits. The combined company will own 60 casino resorts across 16 states, but we need to look out for the impact on New Jersey.”
Sweeney urged the Casino Control Commission to take a long hard look at the merger and its impact on Atlantic City:
“Gaming regulators should be sure to thoroughly evaluate the consequences of this deal. I will be monitoring the progress of the transaction to make sure it serves the best needs of New Jersey and our workers.”
And then there are federal antitrust concerns
In addition to satisfying local concerns, Caesars and Eldorado officials will likely have to convince the federal government the merger doesn’t run afoul of federal antitrust laws.
On a conference call with analysts and investors Monday, Reeg said the company expects to have to sell some properties to avoid such issues.
Reeg specifically mentioned the Las Vegas Strip. However, considering the concentration of local casino ownership the merger creates, Atlantic City could very well be the next target.
Something good for Atlantic City casino patrons
In the meantime, another impact of the merger could prove a good one for Atlantic City casino visitors.
The merged company will adopt the industry-leading Caesars Rewards loyalty program across all properties.
Caesars automatically transitioned all Total Rewards members to the new Caesars Rewards program in February. It will presumably do the same for Eldorado customers as the merger closes.
Caesars Rewards members can currently earn and redeem rewards at more than 45 Caesars resorts and casinos around the world. As it stands, the merger will bump that up to as many as 60 properties in the US alone.