Monday, 27 July 2020

Hedge-funder gambles on coronavirus to build casino empire

Soo Kim, co-founder of hedge-fund giant Standard General, has already scooped up three casinos on the cheap since the pandemic struck in March, including Bally’s Atlantic City Hotel & Casino — which he bought for $25 million, the price of some New York City metro-area homes.
But Kim, a 45-year-old Queens native, sees more such opportunities opening up as the pandemic drags on, squeezing gambling houses loaded down with debt.
“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,” the Stuyvesant HS graduate told The Post.
“We are one of the few that have scale and a good balance sheet,” he said of Twin River Worldwide Holdings, an operator of no-frills gambling houses that is 38 percent owned by Standard General.
Twin River, based in Lincoln, RI, now owns 10 gambling properties across six states, as well as a horse racetrack with 13 authorized off-track betting licenses in Colorado.
It acquired three of those properties in April as casino giants Caesars Entertainment and Eldorado Resorts scrambled to sell assets to close on a planned $17 billion merger.
In addition to buying Bally’s — a 1,251-room hotel and casino on the Atlantic City Boardwalk — from Caesars, Twin River also scooped up Eldorado’s namesake property in Shreveport, La., and its Montbleu in Lake Tahoe, Nev., for $155 million.
Twin River paid just 3.6 times earnings for the three venues, or roughly the cost of the real estate, Kim says.
“The price we offered was really low,” he said. “Even if these casinos are closed for two years, it’s a good deal.”
While Caesars and Eldorado sold to win regulatory approval for their merger, the coronavirus also played a role, experts said, noting that the Shreveport property was on track to fetch as much as $230 million in January before the deal fell through.

Kim made headlines in 2014 for partnering with American Apparel’s controversial founder and CEO, Charney, after Charney had been ousted for alleged sexual harassment. Efforts to revive the retailer failed, however, and it filed for bankruptcy protection in 2015.
Among Standard General’s more successful turnaround efforts is Turning Point Brands, licensor of Zig-Zag tobacco wrapping paper. Standard General bought it in 2010, when it was on the verge of bankruptcy. The stock closed on Friday at $29.67 a share.
Kim is hoping for a similar success story with Twin River, known for its focus on regional, no-frills casinos — a sector that has been doing well of late because they attract heavy gamblers instead of families and conferencegoers, analysts said.
When Standard General first got involved with its Twin River stake in 2016, it was generating $50 million in annual earnings. That’s now projected to grow to $200 million. As Twin River’s chairman, Kim is aiming for earnings of $500 million a year, he said.
With the exception of Bally’s, all of Twin River’s casinos are in the green since reopening in May, Kim said.
“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.”