Ameristar re-brands East Chicago casino

The USD 30 million re-branding of the former Resorts/Harrah’s riverboat as the Ameristar Casino Hotel in East Chicago, Indiana, is virtually complete. After three inaugural concerts scheduled over the past weekend, only a Starbucks remains to be built on the casino pavilion beside Lake Michigan.

The renovation readies the boat to compete with the new Horseshoe casino opening next month in nearby Hammond and, one analyst says, the upgraded asset may make Las Vegas-based Ameristar Casinos Incorporated a more inviting takeover target for Penn National Gaming.

Ameristar 10 months ago paid Colony Capital affiliate Resorts International USD 675 million for the 53,000-square-foot casino to make its foray into the Chicagoland gaming market. It has run the boat throughout renovation, and June revenues reached USD 28.9 million, up almost 15 percent from a year earlier. The boat is Ameristar’s eighth casino in seven markets.

Ameristar has added or renovated four restaurants, three bars and two lounges at East Chicago. The reconfigured gaming area has 1,800 slot machines – more are planned – and 76 table games, with a new player-tracking system. The 15-story hotel has 290 rooms.

In a statement, Ameristar acknowledges that the twice-as-large Horseshoe Hammond will be “a formidable competitor.” The company points out that its Council Bluffs, Iowa, casino has fared well against the larger Horseshoe there, which is also owned by Harrah’s Entertainment.

A JPMorgan gaming analyst observed last week that Penn National could be eying Ameristar. Penn has nearly USD 1.5 billion in breakup fees available following the collapse two weeks ago of two equity firms’ bid to take the gaming company private.