Busy Full House ready for spotlight

Full House Resorts has quietly flown under the radar.

But the Las Vegas-based casino operator is making enough noise that investors could soon notice.

Two weeks ago, Full House opened the FireKeepers Casino in Battle Creek, Mich., which it manages for the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi Indians. Full House oversaw the 15-month development, design and construction of the property.

FireKeepers has 107,000 square feet of gaming space, including 2,680 slot machines, 78 table games, a poker room, bingo hall and five restaurants. The resort is off busy Interstate 94 between Chicago and Detroit.

The property is a step up from the 8,400-square-foot Stockman’s Casino in Elko, which Full House bought in January 2007, and a 2,100-slot machine casino the company manages at the Harrington Raceway in Delaware.

Full House told investors last week it had enrolled more than 100,000 customers into its players’ club, well above analysts’ initial expectations.

"The construction of FireKeepers came in ahead of schedule and under budget despite increasing the number of slot machines and parking spaces from the original plan," Full House Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Andre Hilliou said. "Traffic at the casino is currently at capacity levels."

MorganJoseph gaming analyst Justin Sebastiano is sold. He believes Full House, which is traded on the American Stock Exchange, could double earnings per share over the next year because of FireKeepers.

Full House has $4.5 million in cash, $7.9 million available under a credit agreement and an estimated free cash flow of $6 million this year. Sebastiano expects the company, which is working with the Northern Cheyenne Nation to develop a casino on tribal land in Montana, will actively explore expansion opportunities.

"Full House continues to peruse the acquisition market and is likely to make (one) on its own or joint venture with another entity for a larger property," Sebastiano said.

Full House is best known for having former auto industry executive Lee Iacocca on its board of the directors. But the company’s profile may soon be elevated.

***

Macquarie Securities gaming analyst Joel Simkins glimpsed the slot floor’s future when he visited the Treasure Island Casino in Welch, Minn., about 50 miles south of Minneapolis.

A multiplayer game offered by WMS Industries had players lined up four-to-five deep. Electronic versions of craps and baccarat from Shuffle Master also drew customer attention.

"While one casino certainly doesn’t indicate a trend, we find these off-the-beaten-path property tours value-added," Simkins said, saying that Indian casinos offer more cutting-edge technologies than commercial casinos.

Howard Stutz’s Inside Gaming column appears Sundays. E-mail him at hstutz@reviewjournal.com or call 702-477-3871. He blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/stutz.

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