In a business where property name changes are a good bet to follow ownership changes, it appears Vicksburg’s Ameristar Casino will maintain its long-standing identity when it merges with Pinnacle Entertainment later this summer.
“There won’t be any name changes,” said Anthony Sanfilippo, chief executive officer of Pinnacle said following the company’s suitability and licensure hearing Thursday at the Mississippi Gaming Commission in Jackson. Pinnacle’s requests were approved by the three-person commission.
“It will stay Ameristar Vicksburg,” he said. The property opened as Ameristar in Feb. 1994.
Pinnacle’s acquisition of Ameristar Casinos is part of a $2.8 billion transaction that doubles the size of the company. Pinnacle operates seven casinos and a racetrack. It owns three casinos in Louisiana — two under the Boomtown brand in Bossier City and New Orleans — two casinos in Missouri, two in Indiana and a horse racetrack in Ohio.
In addition to Vicksburg, Ameristar owns and operates casino facilities in St. Charles near St. Louis, Mo.; Kansas City, Mo.; Council Bluffs, Iowa; Black Hawk, Colo.; East Chicago, Ind.; the Jackpot, Nev., properties; and a casino resort under construction in Lake Charles, La. Ameristar in Vicksburg employs 800 at its 72,210-square-foot casino and hotel.
To settle a complaint by the Federal Trade Commission that said the takeover would hurt competition in Missouri and Louisiana, Pinnacle agreed earlier this week to divest itself of an Ameristar casino project under way in Lake Charles and the Lumiere Place Casino, HoteLumiere and Four Seasons Hotel in St. Louis, subject to regulatory approvals.
The deal is expected close by the end of September.
But Thursday’s hearing was about a return of Pinnacle Entertainment to Mississippi. The company previously operated Biloxi’s Casino Magic, which was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Instead of rebuilding, Pinnacle sold the land to Harrah’s Entertainment for the reconstruction of Biloxi Grand Casino, which later moved to the north side of U.S. 90.
“We’re happy to be back in Mississippi,” said Sanfilippo. “We’re excited about growing our companies through the acquisition of Ameristar. We’re companies that complement each other in our philosophy of being able to provide our team members with a great place to work and in taking care of our guests.
“Ameristar does a terrific job, it is very well run and extremely well maintained,” said Sanfilippo. “They are absolutely a market leader in this part of the state, and we’ll do everything we can to continue that.”
Sanfilippo said the transaction will double the size of the company, and will make it a stronger company. “This will double our cash from about $300 million to almost $700 million, which is important because it will allow us to do more things as we grow our company. We will go from about 8,000 team members to about 15,000 team members.
“We’re happy to be back in the state,” he reiterated. “This is a state that’s gracious in welcoming businesses and reasonable in working through tough business environments. I saw it first-hand in what happened with Katrina and how supportive Gov. Haley Barbour was in helping clean up the Gulf Coast and helping get industries back on their feet.”
Sanfilippo didn’t directly address future changes, but said gamblers can expect to see one big change.
“We’ll have one loyalty program roll out next April,” he said. “It will take the best of both Ameristar’s Star program and the Pinnacle MyChoice program.”
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