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ST. LOUIS-Aztar Corp. has terminated a sale of the Casino Aztar Caruthersville here, as part of a deal that will allow a merger of Aztar with Columbia Entertainment, also know as Wimar Tahoe Corp. Phoenix-based Aztar was supposed to sell the casino by Nov. 19 as part of the merger agreement, but the buyer, Fortunes Entertainment LLC, could not earn state licensing by the deadline, said an Aztar spokesman.

The Missouri Gaming Commission is taking steps to ensure that the casino doesn’t go dark, however. The Commission on Wednesday directed staff to take the necessary legal steps for the appointment of a supervisor of the property.

Fortunes Entertainment is operated by Lance Callis, a co-founder of Argosy Gaming Co. and Argosy’s predecessor company, Metro Tourism and Entertainment. Aztar’s spokesman says Columbia will continue to sell the property after the merger, but he could not comment on whether Fortunes will be considered again as a suitor. Fortunes could not be reached for comment.

Casino Aztar employs 283 people in Southeast Missouri and contributes more than $6 million in annual fees and taxes. “The ripple effect of a shut down would have a powerful impact on Caruthersville, surrounding Pemiscot County, and the state,” says Missouri Gaming Commission executive director Gene McNary. “All levels of government are taking an interest into this matter.”

Meantime, the merger and the related sale of Aztar Caruthersville are the subject of two lawsuits. Aztar officials notified shareholders in September that Judge Robert E. Miles of Maricopa County has set a hearing date for Nov. 21 on a settlement proposal.

The suits, filed in March by shareholders Robert Glasmann and Plumber Local Union No. 519 Pension Trust Fund, allege Aztar and its board of directors breached their fiduciary duties by not setting up an auction “or active market check” before contracting March 13 to be acquired by Las Vegas-based Pinnacle Entertainment Inc. and its wholly owned subsidiary, PNK Development 1 Inc. Aztar eventually paid Pinnacle $78 million to kill their $51-per-share merger deal and hook up with Columbia Entertainment, which has agreed to pay $54 per share. Aztar shareholders approved the merger in October.

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