Atlantic City Delivers for Aztar

Updated from 5:14 a.m. EDTAztar's (AZR) bet on its Atlantic City expansion is paying off, driving third-quarter profit growth.

The Phoenix-based casino operator said Wednesday it earned $19.4 million, or 51 cents a share, in the latest quarter. That compares with $13.2 million, or 36 cents a share, a year earlier.

On average, analysts expected earnings of 49 cents a share, according to Thomson First Call. Revenue totaled $241 million, up from $207.6 million a year earlier, but less than the $247.7 million analyst consensus.

The company finished a big expansion at the Atlantic City Tropicana late last year that included a new 502-room hotel tower and The Quarter, a 200,000-square foot shopping and entertainment complex.

The additions led the resort's revenue to jump 29% year-over-year to $137.7 million in the third quarter and earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, or EBITDA, to increase nearly 59% to $41.4 million.

The Tropicana in Las Vegas didn't fare as well, and EBITDA declined 3% from last year on lower nongaming revenue.

Aztar is planning two rounds of renovations over the next couple years at older parts of the Atlantic City Tropicana to further increase its appeal, executives announced in a conference call Wednesday. The first round, which will cost $20 million to $25 million, will spruce up the south casino, which adjoins The Quarter, and refurbish rooms in the north hotel tower.

A second round, which the company has yet to put a price tag on, will upgrade the north casino and south hotel tower.

Aztar also recently started building a 100-room boutique hotel and entertainment complex at its Evansville, Indiana casino, the executives said.

Investors are eager to learn what Aztar plans to do with a 17-acre parcel of land in Sin City, but the company didn't offer any hints in its earnings release. During the conference call, executives declined to comment, other than to reiterate past comments that "architectural" work continues. They wouldn't say when they might make an announcement.

Shares finished Wednesday's session up 37 cents, or 1.2%, at $30.50.

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