Hedge fund activist Carl Icahn says the best path forward for United States-based casino operator Caesars Entertainment Corp would be a “thorough strategic process to sell or merge the company”. His statement was included in a Friday press release about an agreement between Caesars and Mr Icahn, which will allow the activist investor to add three directors to Caesars’ board.
Mr Icahn now controls a 9.8 percent stake in Caesars, according to the latter’s statement filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission last week.
Under the terms of the agreement announced on Friday, Keith Cozza, Courtney Mather and James Nelson have been appointed to Caesars’ board, as of that date. Three existing directors will step down from the board, said the casino operator.
The deal also provides Mr Icahn the right to appoint a fourth representative to the board if a new chief executive is not named within 45 days. Caesars CEO is to step down from his role at the company at the end of April, the company had announced in December. He had been due to leave in early February, but agreed to stay a little longer so the casino group could find a suitable successor
Last week, Reuters reported that Mr Icahn had proposed Anthony Rodio, CEO of privately-held gaming company Affinity Gaming, as Mr Frissora’s successor. Mr Rodio was previously CEO of Tropicana Entertainment Inc, a U.S.-based casino and resort operator that Mr Icahn sold last year to Eldorado Resorts Inc for US$1.85 billion.
Under Friday’s agreement, Mr Icahn has agreed to vote all the shares he holds in Caesars in favour of each of Caesars’ board nominees at the company’s 2019 annual meeting, according to the release.
Commenting on the overall agreement with Caesars, Mr Icahn was quoted as saying: “I believe the best path forward for Caesars requires a thorough strategic process to sell or merge the company to further develop its already strong regional presence, which will allow Caesars to continue to take advantage of the Caesars Rewards programme bringing more and more players into Caesars’ Vegas market. I expect this to make Caesars the most powerful competitor in Vegas, the gaming capital of the world.”
Caesars Rewards, the group’s membership and player rewards scheme, has been described by some industry commentators as one of the key assets of the group.
Mr Icahn added: “Caesars would be a great opportunity for certain investors who have already expressed interest, and I’m glad the board will explore these opportunities. Independent of strategic alternatives, I believe Caesars should also be focused on leadership succession, disciplined capital allocation, [on] improving operating performance and optimising real estate and other assets.”
Caesars aspires to bid for a Japan casino licence and is currently preparing for construction of a foreigner-only casino resort – with a local partner – in Incheon, South Korea.
James Hunt, chairman of the Caesars’ board, said in a prepared statement: “Since the completion of Caesars’ restructuring, we have been undergoing a strategic process to create value, and we will continue that process working with our new directors.”
In December, Caesars Entertainment had confirmed receiving a proposal from privately-held Golden Nugget LLC – controlled by billionaire Tilman Fertitta – for a reverse merger that would have included Caesars absorbing Golden Nugget and Mr Fertitta taking over as Caesars Entertainment’s CEO. The company said at the time it rejected the offer, as it was “not consistent with the company’s plans to create and enhance shareholder value over the long term”.
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