Press-Republican

Local News

October 29, 2007

Billions at stake in casino battle

St. Regis Mohawks, Las Vegas gambling giant in court fight

and WILLIAM KATES

LAS VEGAS -- It garners a mere one-paragraph mention in the quarterly earnings report, but the private equity buyers of Harrah's Entertainment Inc. could have a colossal $2.8 billion problem on their hands.

The world's largest casino company by revenue inherited a legal quagmire that dates back to 2000.

That's when Arthur Goldberg, then chief executive of Park Place Entertainment Corp., signed a deal with the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe to acquire the exclusive rights to jointly develop a casino in the Catskills in upstate New York, just a 90-minute drive from Manhattan.

The tribe's current leaders say the deal was a sham, only meant to protect profits at four casinos in Atlantic City, N.J., now owned by Park Place's successor company, Harrah's.

It also pushed aside a deal the tribe had to build a casino in the Catskills, which seven years later, still has not been built.

Members of the tribe sued Park Place for its interference in 2000, and won a $1.8 billion default judgment in a tribal court mainly because Park Place lawyers did not show up. In July, the tribal court affirmed the judgment and tacked on $1 billion in interest owed.

The tribe sued again this summer, this time in U.S. federal court, to enforce the tribal judgment.

That could add a huge liability to the $13.9 billion in debt that Harrah's private equity buyers, Apollo Management and Texas Pacific Group, agreed to take on in the $17.1 billion deal expected to close by early next year.

Analysts say it could make the buyout less viable.

"If you're paying out the lawsuit in cash in one lump sum, it makes it very difficult to get your investment returns to work," said casino analyst Dennis Farrell of Wachovia Securities.

The tribe's lead lawyer, Dennis Vacco, the former attorney general for New York state, says Harrah's has treated the case frivolously, by failing to respond to tribal court summonses and lobbying the government behind the scenes to have the tribal court annulled.

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