Caesars Southern Indiana officially changed hands on Friday as EBCI Holdings took ownership of the casino located across from Louisville. With the $250 million deal closed, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) now are in the commercial gaming business.
Caesars Entertainment announced the sale on Dec. 24 after weeks of discussions by EBCI leaders about whether to proceed after being granted an exclusive negotiating period. Caesars has had a business relationship with the sovereign tribe based in western North Carolina. Caesars and EBCI have been gaming partners for about a quarter-century as Caesars operates two Harrah’s casinos on tribal land.
Today marks a significant milestone not only for the tribe but also for our longstanding relationship with Caesars Entertainment,” EBCI Principal Chief Richard Sneed said in a statement. “Caesars Entertainment has been a great partner for us in North Carolina and we’re excited to continue that success in Indiana.”
Because of that history, Caesars entered into a licensing partnership with EBCI Holdings that allows the new owners to continue using the company’s branding, including the sportsbook and loyalty rewards program.
The Caesars connection also extends into the new holding company as well.
EBCI Holdings CEO Scott Barber worked for more than 20 years as an executive with Caesars. More than half of his tenure was as the regional president for the gaming company’s Mid-South and Mid-Atlantic operations.
Why the Sale Happened
When the Indiana Gaming Commission signed off on the Eldorado Resorts $17.3 billion acquisition of Caesars in July 2020, state regulators ruled that the newly merged company needed to have agreements in place to sell three of its five casinos in the state by the end of last year. The IGC ultimately reduced the number of divestitures to two.
State gaming officials were concerned that the new Caesars entity would control too much market share within the Indiana market. At that July 2020 IGC meeting, then-Eldorado CEO Tom Reeg, now CEO of the new Caesars Entertainment, identified Tropicana Evansville and Caesars Southern Indiana as the two properties to go on the market.
Caesars sold the Tropicana to Bally’s Corp. last year. The IGC approved that deal earlier this year and the Caesars Southern Indiana deal last month.
In seeking a purchaser for the Elizabeth, Ind. casino, Caesars sought bids and proposals from other gaming entities. It selected EBCI, which had its own reasons for getting into the commercial gaming business.
Tribal leaders were worried about the potential revenue loss due to the arrival of a new tribal casino near Charlotte. Sneed had estimated that the Catawba Nation’s Two Kings casino could cost the Cherokees $100 million in revenue. EBCI uses those funds to cover education, health care, and housing costs. That’s what led to tribal leaders entering the commercial gaming market.
Because of the differences between revenue disbursements by commercial casinos and their tribal counterparts, Sneed has said EBCI Holdings will need to own or partner in multiple commercial casinos to make up for the loss of direct revenue received from the band’s Harrah’s casinos. On the flip side, the commercial venture will be able to eventually fund its own expansion and acquisition costs.
EBCI Plans to Retain All Caesars Southern Indiana Workers
In a statement, Barber said Caesars Southern Indiana offers “a special legacy of excellence” that made it an attractive acquisition target. That goes beyond the investments Caesars has made to the property since it opened 23 years ago. In December 2019, Caesars moved the casino from a riverboat and brought it inland at a cost of $90 million.
“As we’ve discovered, Caesars Southern Indiana also employs an excellent workforce and has made meaningful investments in the community over the last two decades. We look forward to building on that success,” he said.
Caesars Southern Indiana consistently ranks among the top revenue generators in the market. The $218.1 million in total win and $61.3 million in total taxes ranked fourth among the state’s 12 casinos. Those figures also ranked the highest among the six southern Indiana casinos.
Since Indiana gaming officials awarded Caesars a license 25 years ago – it opened in 1998 – the casino has contributed nearly $250 million to foundations in Harrison County (where the casino is based) and neighboring Floyd County.
Besides keeping the branding, EBCI Holdings also plans to keep the approximately 900 staffers and management on board. That includes General Manager Brad Siegel.
“We have built an outstanding team here and we are proud of the investment Caesars has made not only in its employees but also in our community,” Siegel said in a statement. “I am eager to enter this new chapter with the same dedicated and friendly staff alongside me.”
EBCI Holdings will schedule a ribbon cutting to celebrate the purchase later this fall.
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