MGM Resorts-Invested Hedge Fund Wants Company to Sell Macau Casinos, Merge Real Estate Trust

Posted on: September 19, 2018, 12:25h. 

Last updated on: September 19, 2018, 12:32h.

MGM Resorts is the latest publicly traded casino company with an activist hedge fund that doesn’t intend to sit back and collect profits without having a voice in the gaming operator’s direction.

MGM Resorts stock Jim Murren
MGM Resorts CEO Jim Murren (left) could have activist investor Jeff Smith in his ear, after Smith’s hedge fund made a $500 million buyin on the casino operator. (Image: Wharton Magazine/David Grogan/CNBC/

Less than a week after revealing hedge fund HG Vora Capital had amassed a nearly five percent ownership stake in Caesars Entertainment, the New York Post’s Josh Kosman says activist investment group Starboard Value put $500 million into MGM Resorts.

Founded in 2002 by Jeffrey Smith and Mark Mitchell, Fortune’s William Cohan wrote in late 2014 that Smith’s carefully crafted moves show a sophisticated level of corporate business savvy.

Smith accomplished something that even his more flamboyant, better-known activist peers can’t boast about: He took effective control of a Fortune 500 company – Darden Restaurants, the owner of Olive Garden and Longhorn Steakhouse – while owning less than 10 percent of the company,” Cohan wrote.

MGM Resorts is currently ranked 280th on the Fortune 500. Caesars Entertainment is at 536.

Macau Split, REIT Unite

Along with its 4.9 percent Caesars control, HG Vora additionally has an activist position in MGM Resorts. Paired with Starboard and several other hedge funds, Kosman says the groups are unifying to force the casino operator into making some key moves.

Starboard wants MGM to sell its Macau operating unit, which owns two integrated resorts in the Chinese enclave. MGM Cotai, a $3.4 billion complex, opened in February.

Smith’s hedge fund also seeks MGM and its real estate investment trust (REIT) MGM Growth Properties to merge with VICI Properties, which is Caesars’ REIT. MGM Growth Properties attempted to do just that earlier this year when it made a proposal to acquire VICI. However, executives at VICI strongly rebuffed the offer.

VICI was formed during Caesars’ bankruptcy process. Creditors who were left high and dry were given stake in the REIT, which owns the physical assets of 20 Caesars Entertainment properties including Caesars Palace, Harrah’s Las Vegas, Caesars Atlantic City, and Bally’s Atlantic City.

It’s been rumored that Vora wants Caesars CEO Mark Frissora replaced, with some indications that his leadership is holding some otherwise would-be investors back. Caesars’ recent decision to spend $1.7 billion on two Indiana racinos have angered several hedge fund executives.

Betting on Las Vegas

The gaming industry went on high alert after casino executives warned investors during their second quarter conference calls that Las Vegas was seeing a softening in demand in the months ahead. A Wall Street selloff ensued, but hedge funds continue to buy in.

Vora and Starboard’s positions come with considerable risk. “You have to worry about a recession,” one hedge fund investor told The Post. Casinos are not recession proof, a fact that was proven in 2008 and 2009 when gross gambling revenue respectively plummeted 10.3 percent and 9.4 percent.

But the investors leading Vora and Starboard apparently remain bullish on Las Vegas. Stock prices for MGM, Caesars, Las Vegas Sands, and Wynn Resorts were all trading higher Wednesday afternoon.