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New owner of Tropicana tuned in to sports, including baseball

New gaming industry competitors are making their way to Las Vegas, and one of them — Bally’s Corp. — has been somewhat overshadowed by the unusual presence of two tribal entities entering the market.

Providence, Rhode Island-based Bally’s may be the fastest-growing commercial gaming company in the United States, and its acquisition of the Tropicana in April from Gaming and Leisure Properties Inc., a real estate investment trust, for $150 million has growth potential that company executives are still exploring.

The combination of casino assets, a strong online sports wagering presence and a broadcast partner that is visible nationwide has given the company a foundation for growth.

“From our perspective, is this the perfect time for us to focus on Vegas, given how much we have going on,” said Soo Kim, a hedge fund investor who is chairman of Bally’s board of directors.

Kim has served as an independent director for the company since 2016, when it was known as Twin Rivers Worldwide Holdings.

“We’ve been watching the Strip to see what was there, and when this came up for sale, I really felt like it came at a (perfect) time,” Kim said in an exclusive interview with the Review-Journal. “It was mostly that potential Strip access was spoken for, and so I’m not sure what else is going to be for sale. You can’t be a national gaming company without a Las Vegas presence.”

The Tropicana transaction is expected to close early next year. But once the deal closes, what will its name be? That’s one of the many unanswered questions still out there.

“Caesars (Entertainment Inc.) owns the Bally’s (casino property) in Las Vegas,” Kim said. “As part of a purchase of the brand from them, we can ask them to remove the brand for a price, but ultimately in the end, we’d control the Bally’s brand in Las Vegas. In the immediate time, we’re OK with not having the Bally’s (name).”

Some of the speculation around such a deal is that Caesars would rename the Bally’s property to one of its other brands. Among the brands it owns are the Horseshoe, a name that used to exist in downtown Las Vegas but is no longer in the local landscape. Caesars isn’t commenting on the speculation of a name change.

As for Bally’s, it wants to capitalize on the growing national presence of its brand and mark. Kim said the company’s goal is to have the Bally’s name attached to all of its 12-and-counting casinos in the United States with the exception of its Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi.

Bally’s $155 million package deal for the MontBleu resort at Lake Tahoe closed in April. Kim said it would take on the Bally’s name.

The company name already has a historic reputation in the slot machine, video game and pinball machine sectors since 1932.

Bally’s also partners with Sinclair Broadcasting Co., which has rebranded its Fox Sports West network to Bally Sports. Fans who watch local broadcasts of Arizona Diamondbacks, Los Angeles Angels and San Diego Padres see the Bally’s logo on their screens.

That all presents an intriguing question: Would Bally’s parlay its interest in sports — it just closed on its deal to acquire Bet.Works for $125 million and introduced Bally Bet in Colorado — to something bigger involving the Oakland A’s’ prospective move to Las Vegas?

Think about that opportunity — a location, the Tropicana, with enough real estate to build an indoor baseball stadium that could attract guests who could walk to hockey games at T-Mobile Arena, football games at Allegiant Stadium or onsite baseball games. There’s some precedence: Petco Park in San Diego is attached to the Omni San Diego Hotel.

Kim said he would definitely take the call if the A’s phoned him.

“To be completely frank, it’s an idea that I haven’t heard at this point,” he said. “We are very creative, and there are 35 acres (at the Tropicana). I actually don’t know how many acres it takes to host a baseball stadium, so it’s hard for me to comment on this. But Vegas is an important market on a number of fronts. It’s also fast-growing and dynamic, which is what sports teams like.”

John DeCree, a gaming industry analyst with Las Vegas-based Union Gaming, said that Bally’s latest moves in sports shows the company is ready to “hit the accelerator” on its sports betting strategy and that the company plans to launch its mobile app in three more states before the end of the year.

In a note to investors, DeCree reiterated a $95 price target — a heavy lift considering shares closed Friday at $55.84.

“Given how little value the market ascribes to Bally’s Interactive today, we believe (the company) offers one of the best risk-reward plays in the U.S. digital gaming industry,” DeCree said.

Kim said the true value in the company is in its ability to blend its online and terrestrial products.

“The holy grail is when your customers can also go online, have a good experience and then also cash their rewards points at the physical-experience amenities. I think when both work together, that’s a truly winning combination,” he said.

The industry and customers will be watching as Bally’s becomes part of the Strip landscape.

Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on Twitter.

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