Harrah's Entertainment said Thursday that it had completed a deal to purchase the legendary Binion's Horseshoe Hotel & Casino and would reopen the closed downtown Las Vegas property in time for the World Series of Poker tournament.
"Our first priority is to get the casino reopened," Harrah's president and chief executive Gary Loveman said the day after Harrah's officials signed what he called a "definitive" sale agreement with the landmark casino's former owner Becky Binion Behnen.
"We certainly intend to preserve this rich tradition," Loveman said, adding that the casino would keep the name "Binion's Horseshoe."
Behnen, majority owner of the Horseshoe Club Operating Co., was not present for the announcement and could not immediately be reached for comment. Behnen and her husband, Nick Behnen, will not remain part of the casino administration, Loveman said .
The sale was subject to approval by the Nevada Gaming Commission, which also met Thursday.
Behnen's lawyer, Bob Faiss, told commissioners that casino wagers and chips had been paid, and employees had received final paychecks.
Dennis Neilander, state Gaming Control Board chairman, said Harrah's had not yet filed an application for state regulatory review of the sale.
Loveman did not disclose terms of the sale, but said his company assumed all Binion's Horseshoe debts. He did not dispute previous reports that the deal was worth about $50 million.
Flanked by D. Taylor, secretary-treasurer of the Culinary Union in Las Vegas, Loveman said Harrah's would begin assessing staffing needs.
About 900 people were thrown out of work when federal agents emptied cash drawers to enforce a federal court judgment for nonpayment of union benefits. The casino closed Jan. 9 and the hotel locked its doors a day later.
Loveman said he expected it would take four or five weeks to obtain regulatory approval to reopen, and that former employees would be given priority in rehiring.
"We're just happy this place is going to get reopened and people will be back to work," Taylor said after the news conference at the poker room of the 52-year-old property. "This place really represents what Las Vegas is all about."
Loveman said Harrah's will promote the 35th annual World Series of Poker, which will begin April 22. Last year, 839 players vied for a top prize of $2.5 million.
Harrah's already acquired the Horseshoe name outside Nevada with September's $917 million purchase of Jack Binion's Horseshoe Gaming Holding Corp. that owned casinos in Louisiana, Mississippi and Indiana. Harrah's also assumed $533 million in debt in the deal.
Harrah's was negotiating a "flexible agreement" with Jack Binion, who might again become involved in the downtown Las Vegas casino built by his father, Benny Binion, Loveman said. Benny Binion made Glitter Gulch famous by accepting any size wager and for starting the tournament for the world's best poker players.
One of the last family-owned casinos in Las Vegas, Binion's Horseshoe had been struggling in recent years to pay its bills. The Horseshoe Club's downtown assets were listed at $35.6 million, according to Clark County Assessor's Office.
In addition to unpaid pension and health insurance benefits for about 400 Culinary Union employees, the Internal Revenue Service has two liens against the property totaling about $7.5 million.
The purchase of Binion's Horseshoe will bring to 26 the number of casinos that Harrah's operates in 12 states, including Nevada, New Jersey, Louisiana and the riverboat markets of the Midwest, company spokesman David Strow said. The company has 42,000 workers nationwide.
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