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Boyd Gaming Most Likely Buyer of Ameristar: Poll

Boyd Gaming is the most likely potential strategic buyer of Ameristar Casinos.



) --

Boyd Gaming

(BYD) - Get Boyd Gaming Corporation Report

is the most probable strategic buyer of

Ameristar Casinos


, according to



Ameristar confirmed on Thursday that it is "considering strategic alternatives," which could include the potential sale of the company, after the market speculated a "For Sale" listing was looming earlier in the week.

The company said it does not plan on disclosing developments unless its board determines that "there is a material need to update the market." A deal is not certain, the company advised.

Sterne Agee analyst David Bain warns that the likelihood of a deal bearing fruit is slim, given the limited number of realistic potential buyers and lack of visibility in the domestic economy. He downgraded shares of Ameristar, saying any movement in the stock will be based on speculation rather than fundamentals at this point.

But if Ameristar is able to make a deal, investors could be rewarded with more than $20 per share. This would represent about a 15% premium over Friday's closing price.

Ameristar will most likely come with a hefty price tag of about $3 billion, Bain predicts, making the pool of potential bidders with the funds necessary to complete a deal limited.

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More than half of voters -- 58.4% -- said Boyd is the most likely candidate. The regional casino operator has little geographical overlap and a potential deal would diversify it away from Atlantic City and the Las Vegas locals market, J.P. Morgan analyst Joseph Greff wrote in a note.

"While a Boyd deal would likely involve new equity issuance, a potential transaction would be EPS accretive and reduce its leverage ration, while increasing overall debt and reducing free cash flow per share," he wrote.

Penn National Gaming

(PENN) - Get Penn National Gaming Inc. Report

received 23.6% of the vote. Historically, Penn has always kept its options open when it comes to strategic purchases, looking at almost anything that's been up for sale. But the company is very selective in its deals, and with additional capital expenditures and greater geographical overlap with Ameristar, this type of deal would be less likely.

Isle of Capri


, for its part, got 10.1% of the vote, while investors named

Pinnacle Entertainment

(PNK) - Get Pinnacle Entertainment Inc Report

as the least likely purchaser of Ameristar, with just 7.9% saying a deal between the two was probable.

Pinnacle recently opened its new River City Casino in St. Louis, which is in direct competition with Ameristar's casino in the area.

-- Reported by Jeanine Poggi in New York.

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