LAS VEGAS – Harrah's Entertainment Inc. (HET), the world's largest gambling company, has agreed to buy the aging Imperial Palace hotel-casino on the Las Vegas Strip for $370 million.
Harrah's said it has no immediate plans for "substantial operational changes" at the Asian-themed Imperial Palace once it takes control. The Imperial Palace employs approximately 2,500 people, has 2,640 rooms and boasts a 52,000-square-foot casino.
The Imperial Palace (search) is on 18.5 prime acres between Harrah's Las Vegas and the Flamingo — another Harrah's resort. The acquisition gives Harrah's a cluster of hotel-casinos on or near the intersection of the high-profile Strip and Flamingo Road (search), including Caesars Palace, Bally's and Paris Las Vegas.
"This acquisition is one of a number of moves designed to strategically position the company for substantial growth in Las Vegas," Harrah's said in a statement announcing the deal Monday.
Harrah's expects the transaction to be completed by the end of the year after it gets approval from state and federal regulators.
Its shares rose 42 cents to $72.25 Tuesday on the New York Stock Exchange. Its shares have traded in a 52-week range of $44.55 to $79.69.
In June, Harrah's completed its $9 billion acquisition of Caesars Entertainment (search), raising its profile in booming Las Vegas. The move also put Harrah's in more direct competition with MGM Mirage Inc. (MGG), the world's second-biggest gambling company that swallowed up Mandalay Resort Group earlier this year.
Former owner Ralph Engelstad (search) opened what is now the Imperial Palace in 1979. Engelstad, who suffered from cancer, died in 2002. After his death, the hotel-casino passed into the Ralph Engelstad and Betty Engelstad Trust.
Widow Betty Engelstad, Owen Nitz, and Jeff Cooper oversee the trust, which owns Imperial Palace LLC. The deal only involves the Imperial Palace in Las Vegas.
John Mulkey, a gambling analyst with Wachovia Securities, said Harrah's could be laying the groundwork for an ambitious project.
"They have assembled a formidable parcel that should offer longer-term opportunities for a more integrated development," Mulkey said.
Joe Greff, a gambling analyst with Bear, Stearns & Co., suggested in an investor's note that the Imperial Palace might not be around forever.
"We think in the medium term, its makes sense to completely redevelop/demolish/implode this ... property," he wrote. "In fact, we would not be surprised to see this site be part of a major redevelopment for Harrah's Las Vegas/Flamingo. Stay tuned."