Icahn Increases Grip on Caesars to 17.75 Percent, Sale or Merger Now Likely

Posted on: March 12, 2019, 06:11h. 

Last updated on: March 12, 2019, 06:15h.

Billionaire activist investor Carl Icahn has increased his stake in Caesars Entertainment to 17.75 percent, according to a Monday SEC filing. The 83-year-old is now the largest shareholder in the Caesars group.

Carl Icahn
Carl Icahn is now the biggest shareholder in Caesars and has personally installed a quarter of the membership of the board. The corporate raider is expected to demand a say in the choosing of the group’s new CEO and subsequently push for a sale or merger. (Image: Adam Jeffery/Getty)

Icahn has been slowly increasing his ownership since the news broke in February that he had quietly bought 10 percent of the US casino giant — viewing it as an undervalued company and a possible sales target. He recently negotiated with Caesars to appoint three new members to the 12-member board — Icahn Enterprises CEO Keith Cozza, Icahn Enterprises board member James Nelson, and Icahn Capital fund manager Courtney Mather.

Now, with at least a quarter of Caesars’ executive directors loyal to him, Icahn will hold significant leverage when it comes to choosing the company’s new CEO and pushing for a sale.

Hedge Funds Set Sights on US Casino Sector

Current CEO Mark Frissora — who guided the company through a messy two-year bankruptcy — said in November he expected to step down in February.

Also in November, Caesars rejected an unsolicited merger offer from Tilman Fertitta, owner of Golden Nugget Casinos. The board said at the time the terms of the proposal were “not consistent with the company’s plans to create and enhance shareholder value over the long term” but that they were “open to reasonable alternatives to enhance long-term shareholder value.”

The US casino market has become fertile ground for activist investors who are expecting a period of consolidation, which will drive up share prices in companies.

Big hedge funds like Starboard Value, Canyon Capital, Eminence Capital, and HG Vora have been recently building equity in MGM Resorts, while HG Vora has also invested in Caesars.

Corporate Raider

Icahn had an estimated personal fortune of $17 billion in 2019, making him the 26th-wealthiest person in the world, according to Forbes.

He has built a reputation as a corporate raider, buying stock in companies he perceives to be undervalued — and often, in his opinion, mismanaged — before effecting change in corporate structure and governance, driving up share prices by pushing for a sale, or even calling for divestiture of assets, as he did notoriously with TWA in the 1980s.

Icahn held interests in the Nevada casino industry in the 2000s through his company American Entertainment Properties, which owned the Stratosphere, Arizona Charlie’s, Arizona Charlie’s Boulder, Arizona Charlies Decateur, and the Aquarius Casino Resort, all now Golden Entertainment properties.

Until recently he owned the Trump Taj Mahal and Tropicana in Atlantic City, before selling to Hard Rock International and Gaming and Leisure properties, respectively. He still owns the shuttered Trump Plaza.