Ameristar Casinos buying back founder’s shares

VICKSBURG — Ameristar Casinos Inc. is buying back approximately 26.2 million shares of its common stock from the estate of founder and former chairman and CEO Craig H. Neilsen for about $457.6 million.

Neilsen died in Nov. 2006.

The casino operator said that the stock included in the buyback represents about 45 percent of its outstanding stock and approximately 83 percent of the Neilsen estate’s current ownership in Ameristar.

The Neilsen estate will own about 17 percent of Ameristar’s outstanding stock once the transaction is complete, which is expected in the second quarter.

Vicksburg’s Ameristar Casino is the area’s largest of the five gaming ventures in the city, employing 758 people in its casino, hotel, gift shop and RV park, according to third-quarter 2010 data supplied to the Mississippi Gaming Commission.

Ameristar Chairman Ray Neilsen, who is Craig Neilsen’s son, said in a statement that the decision to sell the shares back to the company was “based on the unique financial needs of the estate and its beneficiaries, including The Craig H. Neilsen Foundation that my father established as his legacy to support spinal cord injury research and treatment.”

Ameristar said it also plans to obtain about $2.1 billion in new debt financing and will use the proceeds to retire approximately $1.5 billion of its existing debt; to fund the buyback and for general working capital purposes.

Once the buyback closes Ameristar will not qualify as a controlled company under Nasdaq listing rules and will create a nominating committee. Within 12 months of the closing the Las Vegas casino operator will have a majority of independent directors.

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