Vegas group buys Amelia Belle

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A new player is coming to gamble in the Tri-parishes.

Boyd Gaming of Las Vegas has signed a definite agreement to buy the Amelia Belle Casino, as well as the remaining holdings of Peninsula Gaming, for $1.45 billion. The Amelia Belle operates in St. Mary Parish.

Regionally, Boyd owns the Treasure Chest Riverboat Casino in Kenner and, in Mississippi, IP Casino Resort Spa and Sam’s Town Hotel and Gambling Hall in Tunica.

The company also owns two other Louisiana properties – Delta Downs Racetrack Casino Hotel in Vinton and Sam’s Town Hotel and Casino in Shreveport.

Also listed among Boyd’s Las Vegas casinos are the Orleans Hotel and Casino, Gold Coast Hotel and Casino, Suncoast Hotel and Casino, Sam’s Town Hotel and Gambling Hall and, in downtown Vegas, the California Hotel Casino, Fremont Hotel & Casino and Main Street Station Casino Brewery Hotel.

The Freemont Hotel was Nevada’s first high-rise building when it opened in 1956.

Besides the Amelia Belle Casino, Peninsula Gaming LLC of Dubuque, Iowa, owns the Evangeline Downs Racetrack and Casino in Opelousas, La., as well as four Louisiana off-track betting parlors in Port Allen, New Iberia, Henderson and Eunice. It also owns the Diamond Jo riverboat casino in Dubuque and the Diamond Jo in Worth County, Iowa.

Peninsula Gaming purchased the Amelia Belle for $106.5 million from Columbia Sussex in October 2009.

Boyd Gaming CEO Keith Smith said during a conference call that he expects the deal with Peninsula Gaming to close by the end of the year. All regulatory authorities, including the Louisiana Gaming Control Board, must approve the deal.

“The Peninsula properties are a strong fit for us as they are well-managed and operate in resilient markets in the Midwest and South,” Smith said. “We anticipate this transaction will be immediately accredited to earnings and will significantly increase our free cash flow.

“Acquiring Peninsula Gaming strengthens our financial profile,” he continued. “Their management teams have considerable knowledge of their markets and have show they are able to operate efficiently without compromising the guest experience.”

Smith said the Peninsula deal will require $200 million. Boyd Gaming will assume Peninsula’s $1.2 billion debt. A $144 million note provided by Peninsula will also be considered.

The buyout should provide Amelia Belle’s regulars added benefits, including access to Boyd Gaming’s BConnected program.

“Not only will you have more choices in how you enjoy your rewards, you’ll be able to earn and redeem points at Boyd Gaming casinos across the country, including Las Vegas,” Smith said.

The latest deal marks the fourth such sale of Amelia Belle.

The riverboat casino first operated as Bally’s Casino when it opened in 1994 under the ownership of Caesar’s Entertainment. Docked in Jefferson Parish, the casino was later renamed the Belle of Orleans.

Caesar’s sold the boat in June 2005 to Columbia Sussex. The casino was renamed the Amelia Belle.

Fate dealt the riverboat at bad hand in the form of Hurricane Katrina two short months later. The storm seriously damaged the craft’s engine room as well as new slot machines set for installation.

Determined to keep the operation in south Louisiana, Columbia Sussex relocated the riverboat casino to Amelia in St. Mary Parish. Then general manager told the Tri-Parish Times at the time the Bayou Boeuf site stood out because of land access on both sides of the waterway – St. Mary to the west and Assumption Parish to the east.

Before the Amelia Belle relocated, however, parishwide voter approval was required. Boosting Columbia Sussex’s bid to move into the parish was a company promise to hire 400 residents to operate the casino.

Voters overwhelmingly supported the move. On May 18, 2007, the Amelia Belle Casino opened its doors to an overwhelming crowd.

The Amelia Belle is St. Mary’s second casino. In December 1993, the Chitimacha Tribe opened the state’s first Native American-run casino in Charenton – Cypress Bayou Casino. The tribe is expected to open a 102-room hotel at the casino by the end of the summer.