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ROGER TAYLOR: U.S. fund's acquisition of Great Canadian Gaming clears another hurdle

Great Canadian Gaming Corp. runs the  Casino Nova Scotia locations in Sydney, pictured, and Halifax. JEREMY FRASER/CAPE BRETON POST
Great Canadian Gaming Corp. runs the Casino Nova Scotia locations in Sydney, pictured, and Halifax. JEREMY FRASER/CAPE BRETON POST - Jeremy Fraser

A U.S. fund's acquisition of Great Canadian Gaming Corp., operator of the two casinos in Nova Scotia, took another step closer to completion Monday after the proposed $45-per-share deal received approval under the Investment Canada Act.

However, it still has a way to go before it is considered closed.

Raptor Acquisition Corp., “an affiliate of funds managed by affiliates of New York-based Apollo Global Management,” still must meet additional closing conditions before the sale is complete.

In December, Raptor received approval from the Supreme Court of British Columbia and was cleared under Canada’s Competition Act. About 79 per cent of shareholders voted in favour of the deal after the investment fund sweetened an earlier offer by more than 15 per cent.

Once the conditions are met, the takeover is expected to be completed in the second quarter of this year.

Founded in 1982, Great Canadian Gaming is an Ontario company that operates in that province, British Columbia, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

Great Canadian has 26 casinos but, after Ontario operations at the Elements Casino Grand River and Shorelines Casino Belleville were suspended Friday due to stringent COVID-19 restrictions in that province, operations in Halifax, Sydney and Moncton are its only casinos to remain open, albeit with restrictions.

Chuck Keeling, who speaks on behalf of Great Canadian Gaming, said in an email Monday that the acquisition is not quite completed so he is not in a position to comment about operations.

However, Keeling pointed out that when it was announced in November that Apollo Global Management had made a bid for the casino company, Apollo indicated it is committed to maintaining the company’s current operational footprint “and anticipates Great Canadian’s properties will increase under the Apollo Funds’ ownership.”

In a news release, Apollo indicated it intends “to help drive additional incremental growth through initiatives such as expansion of non-gaming facilities, expanded loyalty and marketing programs, and gaming improvements that leverage the scale of the firm’s platform.”

Alex van Hoek, partner at Apollo, was quoted in the November release:

“Great Canadian is a leader in the gaming and entertainment industry and, based on our experience and knowledge of the space, we see opportunities to work with their talented team to drive additional growth and value. With an industry-leading portfolio of assets and established presence in the best geographic markets across Canada, we are excited to help bring an enhanced experience to more guests across Canada.”

Last month, Great Canadian released its fourth-quarter and fiscal 2020 results. The company acknowledged the pandemic has had a significant effect on business since the temporary suspension of all of its gaming facilities and ancillary amenities on March 16, 2020.

Great Canadian operated its gaming properties in Ontario, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick under restriction for a portion of the fourth quarter but was required to temporarily close the majority of these properties again at various dates prior to year end due to local health mandates.

In the quarter that ended Dec. 31, Great Canadian reported a loss of $45 million (60 cents per diluted share) on revenue of $62.6 million. During the same quarter in 2019, the company registered a profit of $62.4 million (79 cents per diluted share) on total revenue of $357.4 million.

For the full fiscal year, Great Canadian had a 2020 loss of $101.9 million ($1.49 per diluted share) on total revenue of $442.3 million. That’s compared to pre-pandemic 2019 in which the company recorded a profit of $244.9 million ($3.78 per fully diluted share) on total revenue of $1.36 billion.

During the fourth quarter, Great Canadian management entered into amending agreements with its lenders that will continue to temporarily waive compliance with the company's financial and operational covenants under its credit facilities.

As of Dec. 31, the casino company was able to remain in stable capital and liquidity position with a cash balance of $434.8 million and $972.3 million of available undrawn credit on its credit facilities, subject to applicable covenants, the company revealed.

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