Billionaire Carl Icahn is pushing Caesars Entertainment to consider selling its casino empire to a rival in an effort to improve management and increase value for shareholders.
The Wall Street Journal spoke with people close to the corporate raider who are familiar with his Caesars goals.
Mr. Icahn believes that Caesars has desirable properties and that the outlook for Las Vegas is positive,” WSJ journalist Cara Lombardo wrote this week. “He believes the company would be better managed in the hands of a rival and wants Caesars to let shareholders decide if it should be sold, rather than leave it up to the board.”
Icahn has acquired a 10 percent stake in Caesars – a company with 50 casinos in 13 states and several countries. Its brands include its namesake Caesars, Harrah’s, Horseshoe, and Bally’s.
Raiders Are Coming
Caesars and other companies in the gaming industry have been targeted by activist hedge funds over the last year, as many publicly traded operators saw their shares plummet in 2018.
Along with Icahn, hedge fund HG Vora Capital has amassed a 4.9 percent position in the company. The activist investors were behind the ousting of Caesars CEO Mark Frissora, who announced his resignation in November but is staying on until his successor is identified.
Frissora was brought in from Hertz in 2015 to oversee Caesars’ lengthy and complicated bankruptcy process. The former car rental executive was pinpointed by private-equity firms Apollo Global Management and TPG Capital.
Since officially emerging from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in October 2017, investors haven’t been impressed with Frissora’s leadership. Last year, the company spent $1.7 billion to acquire two horse racetrack casinos in Indiana, and announced a non-gaming strategy to license its brands to hotel developers.
Icahn is considering launching a proxy fight to make sure Caesars fully considers any potential takeover offers. According to Investopedia, “A proxy fight is the action of a group of shareholders joining forces, in a bid to gather enough shareholder proxies to win a corporate vote.”
Proxy fights are normally used in corporate takeovers, where investors attempt to seize control of a company.
Caesars has already been targeted by at least two companies: billionaire Tilman Fertitta’s Golden Nugget, and Reno-based Eldorado Resorts.
Fertitta had proposed a reverse takeover where his five Golden Nugget casinos would become part of the Caesars portfolio. Under the offer, Frissora would have been kicked to the curb, and Fertitta the combined group’s CEO.
The Caesars board said the offer was not “consistent with the company’s plans to create and enhance shareholder value over the long term.”
Details regarding Eldorado’s interest weren’t made public, and no former offer was presented. Rumors regarding MGM Resorts acquiring Caesars also made headlines, but nothing materialized.
Icahn is no stranger to the gaming industry. He sold Tropicana Entertainment last year for $1.85 billion, and retains ownership of Trump Entertainment Resorts, though the company’s lone asset is now the shuttered Trump Plaza in Atlantic City. He sold the Trump Taj Mahal to Hard Rock in 2017.
Icahn also owned the unfinished Fontainebleau in Las Vegas. The billionaire bought the $2.8 billion Strip resort in bankruptcy for just $150 million in 2010. He sold it in August of 2017 for a $457 million profit.