Soo Kim, Chief Investment Officer of Standard General, is buying up casinos on the cheap and building his own casino empire. The casinos are being offloaded cheaply due to mounting debts due to coronavirus lockdown.
Kim, 45, has already snatched up 3 casinos for rock bottom prices due to the pandemic. As casino stock prices plummeted during the lockdown, many casino operators mounted serious debt burdens which threatened to close them completely. Even when closed, the larger casinos reported burn rates of millions per day. After reopening, many casinos are struggling with massive losses. But what some see as a crisis, Kim sees as the perfect investment opportunity.
“A lot of casino companies, due to their balance sheets going up too high, are in tough shape now and are not prepared to take advantage of this regional opportunity,” Kim explained.
Kim scooped up Bally’s Atlantic City Hotel & Casino for a song, at $25 million. To put that in perspective, that is about the going rate for a single upscale New York City home. “The price we offered was really low,” he said. “Even if these casinos are closed for two years, it’s a good deal.”
Building a Casino Empire
Soo Kim and his hedge fund company managed to buy 3 casino properties as a direct result of the merger between Caesars and Eldorado this year. To scrape up enough cash for the $17.3 billion merger, Caesars Entertainment sold Bally’s A.C. to Twin River, a gambling operator that is 38% owned by Standard General.
Twin River also bought an Eldorado casino in Shreveport, Louisiana, and acquired the Montbleu in Lake Tahoe for $155 million. Eldorado and Caesars had planned on selling several of their properties to win regulatory approval for their merger, which will make them the largest casino company in the U.S. But the coronavirus also played a role in Kim’s plan, as it drove the Shreveport property price down considerably.
Kim is banking on Twin River to grow the ‘no-frills’ gambling sector, a stable of smaller, regional casinos that attract heavy gamblers rather than families or conference attendees. When Standard General first invested in Twin River, it was generating $50 million in annual earnings. Now they project a yearly take of $200. As chairman of Twin River, Kim is hoping to drive the annual earnings up to $500 million per year.
“It’s amazing how behavior bounces back,” Kim said. “I think spending has been a little better [at the casinos] than for discretionary purchases. People enjoy gambling.”
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