Harrah’s Entertainment expects

Setting superstition aside, the Las Vegas gaming giant is instead focused on lassoing Horseshoe Gaming’s proven profitability and value as a recognized national brand.

“These three are tremendous properties, the market leaders … that each on average exceed $20 million in gross gaming revenue per month,” Anthony Sanfilippo, president of Harrah’s Memphis, Tenn.-based central division, said Tuesday of his company’s newest riverboat casinos. “And Jack Binion has built a tremendous brand.”

Harrah’s in September reached a deal to buy Horseshoe Gaming, a privately held company then owned by Binion. Following several months of investigation, the Federal Trade Commission and state regulators recently approved the deal to conclude today.

Coupled with this year’s purchase of Binion’s Horseshoe in downtown Las Vegas from Becky Binion Behnen, Jack Binion’s sister, Harrah’s has consolidated control of the Horseshoe brand. The company already owns well-known brands like Harveys, Rio and Showboat, but none offer as much history as Horseshoe, Sanfilippo said of a name that calls to mind late gaming legend Benny Binion and his free-wheeling downtown casino.

George Smith, a gaming analyst with Richmond, Va.-based brokerage firm Davenport & Co., on Wednesday praised the acquisition. He said Harrah’s is already adept at cross-marketing its properties and should get stronger with Horseshoe’s brand, casinos and customer database.

“They’re buying top-notch properties that perform well in their respective markets,” said Smith, whose company holds Harrah’s shares. “There’s a nostalgia associated with the Horseshoe brand … which is known for old-school, customer friendly gaming.”

“From Harrah’s perspective, you’re leveraging those properties to augment your customer database … to drive more people other properties, particularly in destination markets like Las Vegas and New Orleans” where Harrah’s operates a 115,000-square-foot casino.

Sanfilippo also fueled speculation that Harrah’s wants to open a large Horseshoe resort in Las Vegas, possibly on the Strip.

“We’ve got a small presence with the historical Horseshoe downtown, but we do think longer term a much larger Horseshoe could be of great appeal” in Las Vegas, Sanfilippo said.

Today’s transition is expected to be largely unapparent to customers of the affected casinos in Hammond, Ind.; Tunica, Miss.; and Shreveport-Bossier City, La., Sanfilippo said.

“That’s important because Horseshoe has built such an effective and loyal (following) in those three locations,” Sanfilippo said. Harrah’s will work to maintain the distinct feel of its different brands in each property, he added.

Most of Horseshoe Gaming’s roughly 8,000 employees were also unaffected, Sanfilippo said. Its formerheads of marketing and human resources will continue in those roles under new ownership, while an undisclosed number of corporate employees based in Summerlin are expected to transition to Harrah’s or be laid off in the next few months.

Harrah’s also has a “gentleman’s agreement” with Jack Binion to receive his insight during the change, as well as a contracted deal to continue using his name and likeness in marketing his former casinos, Sanfilippo said.

Harrah’s in April sold the Binion’s Horseshoe property to MTR Gaming Group of Chester, W.Va., but kept the rights to the Horseshoe name and its signature event, the annual World Series of Poker.

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