LAS VEGAS-Locally based Ameristar Casinos CEO Craig H. Neilsen died in his sleep unexpectedly on Nov. 19 at his Las Vegas residence. The company’s board of directors has elected as Neilsen’s successor company president John M. Boushy, who joined Ameristar in August from rival Harrah’s Entertainment.

Ameristar also announced Monday that Neilsen’s controlling stake in the company will be transferred to his private foundation, the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation. The foundation primarily focuses on spinal cord injury research and treatment. The successor co-trustees of the Foundation are Ameristar EVP Gordon R. Kanofsky and Neilsen’s son, Ray Neilsen, both of whom have been elected co-chairmen of the board.

Pre-empting likely speculation about a possible buyout by another publicly held casino operator, Ameristar noted in this morning’s announcement that it was Neilsen’s wish for the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation “to retain its controlling interest in Ameristar for the long term.” Despite the announcement, Ameristar stock today hit an all-time high of $30.82 in morning trading and in afternoon trading stood at $28.76, up $3.08 (12%).

Ameristar’s only chairman and CEO since its inception in 1993, Neilsen was inducted into the American Gaming Association’s Gaming Hall of Fame in 2005. In 2002, he was named “Best Performing CEO” by the American Gaming Association. He was born in Logan, UT in 1941.

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