PHOENIX-In an effort to top a bid made by Pinnacle Entertainment Inc., Ameristar Casinos Inc. is offering $42 per common share or $2.25 billion and will assume all debt for Aztar Corp. Ameristar’s bid not only tops the $2.1-billion, $38 per share offered by the Las Vegas-based Pinnacle in early March, but will require a contract termination to advance.

The proposed merger would make Ameristar the fifth largest publicly traded owner and operator of gaming properties in the US, with annual revenues of about $2 billion. If the deal ultimately is approved, Ameristar’s seven-property portfolio, totaling 1,193 hotel rooms and 449,000 sf, would expand to 12 properties with 774,000 sf and 5,757 rooms.

Of particular interest is the 61,000-sf Las Vegas Tropicana, a major Aztar property. Ameristar, also a Las Vegas-based operation, views the 34-acre tract as more compelling than the hotel-entertainment-gaming complex itself. “Tropicana Las Vegas would provide Ameristar with an outstanding development opportunity. There’s ample land there to pursue additional non-gaming opportunities as well,” Craig Neilsen, Ameristar’s chairman, president and CEO said this morning in a conference call to announce the offer.

A source familiar with the deal tells GlobeSt.com that the timing for portfolio integration and co-branding from the two companies hasn’t been determined, but points out that Pinnacle Entertainment’s estimate of two years was a strong estimate. “We need to go in and do due diligence after we get the bid accepted,” he adds. “We definitely anticipate cross-marketing on the properties, but just haven’t outlined the timing or investment dollars on that.”

The possible closure of Aztar’s Phoenix headquarters at 2390 E. Camelback Rd. isn’t mentioned specifically in the Ameristar proposal as it was in Pinnacle Entertainment’s. But, the source adds that “they do expect some corporate synergy between the two companies.”

Aztar, Pinnacle Entertainment and Ameristar could not be reached by press time. During the conference call, Neilsen said the move is a strategic one for Ameristar. “We’re looking for long-term growth,” he said, “and this merger would provide the opportunity to upgrade in two of the largest markets in the country. We’re offering a superior proposal to Aztar shareholders and are confident they will view it in that manner.”

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