|By Steve Green, Las Vegas
SunMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Feb. 19, 2011--A day after winning Louisiana's coveted 15th and final casino license, Las Vegas gaming executive Dan Lee said Friday he's moving forward with plans to finance and design the $400 million Mojito Pointe casino resort there.
Lee said champagne was uncorked by his Creative Casinos LLC team Thursday night -- and for good reason.
First, Lee's proposed Lake Charles casino beat out projects competing for the license before the Louisiana Gaming Control Board -- a Hard Rock proposed by St. Gabriel Downs LLC for Lake Charles and a Penn National project proposed for New Orleans.
Second, gaming board members seemed satisfied that Lee could not only develop the project, but that a pending Las Vegas lawsuit wouldn't interfere with those plans.
Lee, former CEO of casino operator Pinnacle Entertainment Inc. of Las Vegas, was sued last year by Pinnacle. The suit charged Lee had violated terms of his separation agreement in planning for Mojito Pointe, which will compete with Pinnacle's L'Auberge casino.
In November, Clark County District Court Judge Kathleen Delaney denied Pinnacle's motion that she issue an injunction barring Lee from competing against Pinnacle and soliciting its employees.
Attorneys for Lee then hit Pinnacle with a counterclaim charging the gaming company had been abusing the legal process in an attempt to thwart competition by Lee. The litigation remains active and is on track for a February 2012 trial -- though such trial dates aren't set in stone and many such lawsuits are settled before going to trial.
In pitching his project, Lee said that among the three proposed casinos, his offered the greatest economic impact in terms of jobs and tax revenue -- and that as a destination resort Mojito Pointe will better enable Louisiana to compete for visitors should casinos in neighboring Texas be approved.
Lee said Friday those economic selling points will be communicated as he prepares for a required April 30 local referendum on the resort in Lake Charles.
"That should not be difficult" to win, he said, noting Lake Charles voters approved Pinnacle's planned Sugarcane Bay resort by a 2-1 margin five years ago. Sugarcane Bay was shelved by Pinnacle after Lee left the company.
Lee said his company has already engaged Las Vegas casino designers and architects to design the project and that, along with engineering, will cost many millions of dollars. For these companies -- Bergman, Walls & Associates and ABA Design Studio -- Mojito Pointe is a rare opportunity to design a casino resort as development of such resorts has slown markedly during the recession.
Four investment banks that had been working with Lee during the application process are now working on the financing, Lee said.
The financing is likely to involve a mixture of debt and equity, with Creative Casinos at some selling shares through an initial public stock offering. A big chunk of the financing is likely to involve bonds while bank financing may play a small role, Lee said.
The investment banks working on the deal are Morgan Stanley, Jefferies & Co., FBR Capital markets and Cantor Fitzgerald, Lee said.
If all goes as planned, Mojito Pointe will open in late 2013.
Down the road, Lee said he hopes Creative Casinos will remain based in Las Vegas and that it will grow to include multiple gaming properties.
Already, Lee said, the Howard family that formerly invested in the newspaper industry has put up $5 million for a one-sixth stake in his company.
William E. Howard and Howard Publications in 2002 sold their group of 16 publications to Iowa-based newspaper publisher Lee Enterprises for $694 million. The newspapers included the North County Times in Oceanside and Escondido, Calif.; and the Star-Tribune in Casper, Wyo.
While he was working Friday, Lee still found time to savor his victory in Louisiana on Thursday.
"My mother said 'at least you have a job,'" Lee quipped.
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Copyright (c) 2011, Las Vegas Sun
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