Gaming regulators tentatively approve Century’s $195M purchase of Sparks Nugget
Nevada gaming regulators tentatively approved Colorado-based casino operator Century Casinos' acquisition of the Nugget Casino Resort in Sparks, which would mark the company’s entry into the state.
Century executives told the Gaming Control Board during a 90-minute hearing in Las Vegas Wednesday the Nugget would be the company’s largest resort and would be considered its flagship property.
“We will introduce a referral program for our customers at our U.S. properties that will entice them to come [to the Nugget],” Century Executive Vice President Andreas Terler said.
The control board’s unanimous recommendation will be considered by the Nevada Gaming Commission on March 23 in Las Vegas. Century executives declined to comment beyond their presentation until after the gaming commission meeting.
Erwin Haitzmann and Peter Hoetzinger, co-CEOs of Century, gave a detailed presentation about the history of the company, which operates two casinos in Colorado, two casinos in Missouri and one casino in West Virginia. Century has a pending deal to acquire the operations of a casino resort in western Maryland.
“I didn’t have any questions about the balance sheet and leverage so I have no concerns about the financing,” said control board Chairman Kirk Hendrick.
Century is paying $195 million for the Nugget – $95 million for half of the real estate covering the Nugget site off Interstate 80 and three miles from Reno-Tahoe International Airport, and $100 million for the operations.
Century has a five-year option to purchase the remaining 50 percent of the Nugget site after closing on the initial 50 percent land purchase last year.
The Nugget Casino Resort is owned by Las Vegas-based Marnell Gaming, which acquired the property in 2016 for an undisclosed price. It was developed by Northern Nevada gaming pioneer John Ascuaga, who died in June 2021 at age 96.
The 1,382-room hotel-casino is one of Northern Nevada’s largest resorts, with a 75,000-square-foot gaming floor, 110,000 square feet of meeting space, nine restaurants, a 700-seat showroom and other amenities.
Longtime Nevada gaming executive Mark Sterbens, who has been general manager of the Nugget under Marnell Gaming, will stay on under Century in his same role following the sale. Terler said the company plans to retain the Nugget’s executives and staff and he plans to spend a large amount of time in Northern Nevada.
In addition to its U.S. holdings, Century operates four gaming properties in Alberta, Canada and has been trying to sell its stake in four casinos in Poland.
Company executives said they are eyeing other U.S. markets, as well as growing Century’s Nevada presence.
The regional casino operator, which began in Europe, doesn’t have what gaming observers consider a flagship resort. Its two casinos in the historic Colorado mining communities of Central City and Cripple Creek are repurposed storefront-style buildings with a combined 52 hotel rooms that are primarily set aside for casino players.
Century’s casinos in West Virginia and Missouri are one- to two-hour drives from metropolitan communities and the locations are not considered major tourist destinations.
“Colorado was effectively Century’s beachhead to begin expanding in the U.S.,” Stifel Financial gaming analyst Jeffrey Stantial said in an interview with The Nevada Independent last year. “At the time, Colorado was the only state that was willing to license a brand-new international entrant.”
Hoetzinger said 70 percent of Century’s revenue comes from the company’s U.S. casinos, a percentage that will increase once the company takes over the Nugget.
Century, which went public in 1994 and opened a corporate office in Colorado Springs, has historically focused its growth internationally, including a collection of gaming operations in Alberta, Canada and Poland.
The turning point in the company’s direction was Century’s 2019 deal to buy the operations of the Mountaineer Casino and Racetrack in West Virginia and two Missouri riverboat casinos in Cape Girardeau and Caruthersville as part of a $385 million overall transaction with the then-Eldorado Resorts.
The deal happened because Eldorado needed to unwind a potential antitrust issue in Missouri that could have affected the company’s $17.3 billion merger with Caesars Entertainment.
Real estate investment trust VICI Properties acquired the land and buildings for the three locations from Eldorado and leased the casinos back to Century to operate.
Century and VICI teamed up again last August to acquire the Rocky Gap Casino Resort in Maryland from Las Vegas-based Golden Entertainment for a combined $260 million. Century is kicking in $56.1 million for the operations, while VICI will pay $203.9 million for the land and buildings.
Century will pay VICI $15.5 million annually through a lease agreement to manage Rocky Gap, increasing its total annual rent payments to the REIT to $41 million.