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Harrah's Still Can't Beat Ameristar

By Jeff Hwang - Updated Nov 15, 2016 at 1:01AM

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Despite Harrah's market share lead in St. Louis and Council Bluffs, Ameristar still makes more money in Missouri/Iowa.

Harrah's Entertainment (NYSE:HET) posted fourth-quarter results Tuesday that, for the most part, don't matter a whole lot. The company's agreement in December to sell out to private equity firms Apollo Management and Texas Pacific Group for $90 per share in cash means that shareholders are locked in and the results are pretty much inconsequential for them.

There wasn't even a Q&A session on the earnings conference call.

There's one observation I can't resist making, though. Harrah's and Motley Fool Hidden Gems selection Ameristar Casinos (NASDAQ:ASCA) have been fighting to the death in the three key markets in Missouri and Iowa -- the St. Louis, Kansas City, and Council Bluffs markets. This past spring, Harrah's took the lead in the Council Bluffs market with the renovation, expansion, and rebranding of the Bluffs Run racino as the new Horseshoe Casino in March. Harrah's also took the market share lead in the St. Louis market after capping off a series of renovations -- including a hotel expansion -- with the opening of a new best-in-class poker room.

Harrah's Horseshoe Council Bluffs holds the market share lead in the Council Bluffs market, but Harrah's also has another Harrah's-branded riverboat in the market just down the street from Ameristar (all three properties are within a few blocks of each other).

Yet despite the fact that Harrah's has the market share lead in both the St. Louis and Council Bluffs markets -- and an extra casino in Council Bluffs to boot -- Ameristar still makes more money in the Missouri/Iowa region. In 2006, Ameristar pulled in a combined $225.7 million in property EBITDA at its St. Louis, Kansas City, and Council Bluffs properties, while Harrah's generated $215.5 million.

Missouri/Iowa: Harrah's vs. Ameristar Property EBITDA

2003

2004

2005

2006

Q4 '06

Harrah's*

$173.3

$198.8

$196.9

$215.5

$53.2

Ameristar**

$194.8

$217.4

$227.4

$225.7

$56.2

Dollars in millions.
*Includes Harrah's Maryland Heights (STL), Harrah's North Kansas City, Horseshoe Council Bluffs, and Harrah's Council Bluffs.
**Includes Ameristar St. Charles (STL), Ameristar Kansas City, and Ameristar Council Bluffs.

Harrah's did close the gap substantially with a 9% increase in property-level EBITDA in 2006, however, but Ameristar still held the EBITDA lead in Q4, and perhaps for good: Ameristar's St. Louis property is scheduled to open its AAA Four-Diamond quality hotel late in 2007, which should tip the revenue scale back the other way. Meanwhile, Ameristar could potentially recapture the lead in Council Bluffs by replacing its riverboat, while Harrah's pending sale could delay any plans for the potential construction of a hotel on the Horseshoe property.

Ameristar is a Hidden Gems pick.

Fool contributor Jeff Hwang owns shares of Ameristar Casinos. The Fool has a disclosure policy.

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