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Caesars, Harrah's Eye Asset Sales

Let the yard sales begin.

To avoid antitrust concerns surrounding its $5.2 billion merger, Harrah's Entertainment (HET) and Caesars Entertainment (CZR) are laying plans to sell four casinos in Chicago, Tunica, Miss., and Atlantic City, N.J.

But with the Federal Trade Commission and a number of state regulators closely eyeing the merger, as well as the one between MGM Mirage (MGG) and Mandalay Resort Group (MBG), analysts say there could be more properties put on the block.

On Tuesday, Harrah's confirmed a report that it was in discussions to sell Harrah's East Chicago, Harrah's Tunica, the Atlantic City Hilton and Bally's Tunica to a group led by Colony Capital, which owns the Las Vegas Hilton and other casino properties. Interest in the properties is high. At least two other buyers are interested in assets, including one of the small-cap gaming operators, but Colony has exclusive negotiating rights.

"If Colony seals the deal, the yard sale would be 'picked over' but probably not finished," said David Vas, analyst at Banc of America Securities. "We would still not be surprised to see additional properties offered in markets such as Atlantic City, Tunica, Rena, Laughlin and Lake Tahoe, as well as Detroit and possibly Las Vegas." (Bank of America does and seeks to do business with the companies covered in research reports.)

Analysts expect a wave of casino sales in the coming year as both Harrah's and MGM try to comply with the FTC. Last week, the FTC made a second request for information about the Harrah's Caesars merger, which would create the world's largest gaming operator, just weeks after making a second request on the MGM Mandalay merger, which would create the second-largest gaming operator.

Harrah's pre-emptive move to divest assets is seen as a good sign that its merger may win approval without having to sell off too many properties. In reaction, shares of Harrah's rose $1.12, or 2.4%, to $48.40, while Caesars rose 56 cents, or 3.8%, to $15.48.

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