Caesars plans $50M in upgrades, possible casino rebranding after $1.7B Centaur acquisition

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Caesars Entertainment Corp. plans to spend nearly $50 million on technology improvements and other upgrades at the two horse track casinos near Indianapolis that it expects to acquire this year. It also is considering rebranding one of the casinos.

Representatives from Las Vegas-based Caesars on Wednesday morning presented the company’s plans to own and operate Hoosier Park in Anderson and Indiana Grand in Shelbyville to the Indiana Horse Racing Commission.

Caesars announced in November that it plans to buy the properties from Indianapolis-based Centaur Gaming LLC for $1.7 billion, but the deal requires approval from the horse racing commission and the Indiana Gaming Commission.

The horse racing commission unanimously signed off on the acquisition at Wednesday’s meeting. The purchase still needs approval from the gaming commission, which meets Thursday afternoon to discuss the deal.

Dan Nita, regional president for Caesars, said the company plans to invest $41 million on IT infrastructure at the facilities to incorporate the gaming network already in place at other Caesars locations. This would include Caesars’ Total Rewards program, which has more than 55 million members.

Caesars also plans to spend $8 million to make various upgrades at both Hoosier Park and Indiana Grand.

Trent McIntosh, who Caesars hired to become general manager of Hoosier Park, told the commission Wednesday that Hoosier Park will be rebranded to Harrah’s Hoosier Park, to mirror the brand at Caesars’ other horse racing casinos—Harrah’s Louisiana Downs and Harrah’s Philadelphia Casino & Racetrack.

McIntosh is currently assistant general manager at Harrah’s Louisiana Downs.

But when horse racing commission chairman Philip Borst questioned why Caesars would use the Harrah’s brand in Anderson but not in Shelbyville, or why it would use the Harrah’s brand at all, Caesars CEO Mark Frissora walked back the announcement.

Frissora said the company as a whole is going through a rebranding process and looking to add something like “Caesars Entertainment presents” to the title of all of its properties.

“You’ll see Caesars a lot more over the next 12 months as we’re rolling this out,” Frissora said.

So the Anderson casino might not become Harrah’s Hoosier Park after all.

“I don’t want to say our decision is final,” Frissora said.

Caesars already owns two casinos in Indiana—Horseshoe Southern Indiana Hotel and Casino, which is along the Ohio River in Harrison County, and Horseshoe Hammond Casino on Lake Michigan in northwest Indiana.

State law prohibits one company from owning more than two casinos in Indiana, but that doesn't apply to the racetrack-based casinos, which were authorized under a different law.

The deal would give Caesars control of four of the state’s five largest casinos, as measured by gambling revenue.

Horseshoe Hammond is the state’s largest casino with $406 million in fiscal year 2017 in total “win,” which is gambling revenue after payouts. Indiana Grand ranks second with nearly $271 million. Horseshoe Southern Indiana ranks third with $248 million. Hoosier Park is fifth with $209 million.

The gaming commission meets at 2 p.m. Thursday to discuss the deal, and a major point of discussion at that meeting is expected to be the $50 million fee that would apply to the sale.

According to state law, the initial casino license holder is required to pay a $50 million transfer fee when the controlling interest in the license is sold, but Caesars and Centaur had previously argued it shouldn’t apply.

Emails obtained by IBJ earlier this week show that Centaur expects to pay the fee, though.

The gaming commission has the final say on the fee and approval of the acquisition.

Caesars hopes to close the deal in July.

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