The Nevada Gaming Control Board on Wednesday (February 2) recommended approval for Apollo Global Management’s purchase of the Venetian and its associated properties from Las Vegas Sands.
The $6.25bn deal, announced last March, will see the New York-based private equity giant pay $2.25bn to operate the resort, which includes the Venetian, Palazzo and Sands Expo Center, with VICI Properties paying $4bn for the underlying real estate.
The deal marks the return of Apollo, the former joint owner of Caesars Entertainment, to Las Vegas, as well as the exit of Las Vegas Sands from operating gaming in the city that is its namesake.
“We’re very fond of Las Vegas,” CEO Robert Goldstein told board members. “We have nothing but wonderful memories and wonderful thoughts about this city and how we’ve been treated. It’s been great for us.”
Goldstein said the company will continue to have corporate offices in Las Vegas with about 300 employees in the city.
But “the overwhelming majority of our income comes out of Asia, both Macau and Singapore,” he said. “Those markets have been disrupted greatly by the pandemic.
“We just think there may be better ways to redeploy capital as we move forward. It could be Asia, and also large-scale development in the U.S.”
Apollo executives were questioned on two areas of concern to regulators.
First, there was the private equity giant’s tumultuous ownership of Caesars that culminated in Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Board members also pressed executives over the status of Apollo founder Leon Black, who stepped down from the firm last March after his ties to billionaire sex offender Jeffrey Epstein were publicized.
On Caesars, Apollo partner David Sambur admitted that the 2006 leveraged buyout of the company then known as Harrah’s Entertainment “was not our most successful investment,” although he added that a big part of the investment’s struggles was the timing, taking over the company at the beginning of the Great Recession of 2008.
“Look, the Caesars deal is hopefully in every way going to be the opposite of this,” Sambur said. “Between the signing of the deal and the closing of the deal, the world effectively fell apart.”
“Unlike this recession, there was a multi-year decline in Clark County gaming revenue and we were digging out from a substantial hole right from the start, unfortunately,” he added. “We did our best to support the business.”
On Black, the board questioned how much input the Apollo founder, who still owns almost 12 percent of the firm’s stock, has in its operations.
“My questions really go to the heart of the fact that he’s a significant individual shareholder, he’s north of 10 percent, somewhat of a bright line for us typically,” said gaming board member Philip Katsaros. “So when I look at that, it raises an eyebrow.”
“He has no authority within the company; he’s a minority shareholder, that’s all he is,” said Frank Schreck, an attorney representing the firm.
Although Black does have some rights to attempt to re-join Apollo’s board of directors, Apollo general counsel Brian Carney said that Black has told the firm that he does not intend to do so, and even if he did, that move would be subject to a shareholder vote.
“We can confirm very clearly that Mr. Black will not be interfering or giving any input that has any sort of impact on what [Sambur] will be doing,” Carney said.
The Nevada Gaming Commission will consider the deal at a meeting later this month, and Sambur told the board that the approvals from each regulatory body are the final conditions required for the acquisition to close.