South Point owner Michael Gaughan sells small stake in Illinois riverboat casino

Last week’s $170 million sale of an Illinois riverboat casino had a Las Vegas connection.

Employees of the Casino Queen, through a newly created employee stock ownership plan, purchased the riverboat casino, which is located in the Illinois city of East St. Louis, across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, Mo.

South Point Hotel-Casino owner Michael Gaughan is one of the riverboat’s stakeholders selling his ownership shares.

After several months of studying the deal, the Illinois Gaming Board voted unanimously to approve the sale on Dec. 20.

Before the closing of the sale last Wednesday, the Casino Queen was owned by a group of private investors, including members of the Koman family in the St. Louis area, which held a 20 percent ownership stake. Other stakeholders included members of the Bidwill, Kenny and Rand families in Chicago and Gaughan.

The Casino Queen has a 40,000-square-foot gaming floor with 1,100 slot machines and 27 table games. The casino, in Illinois across from downtown St. Louis, replaced a riverboat in 2007 with a new facility that cost $92 million.

The employee stock ownership program will be managed by co-trustees Jeff Watson, the Casino Queen’s general manager and president, and Chief Financial Officer Robert Barrows.

Through the ESOP, company stock will be held in a trust and employees will receive a payout when they retire or leave the company.

“To my knowledge, it’s the first ESOP casino in the country,” Watson told the St. Louis Post Dispatch.

The Casino Queen competes for customers with casinos in the populous St. Louis market, which is seeing some changes.

Earlier this year, Penn National Gaming bought Harrah’s in the St. Louis suburb of Maryland Heights. On Dec. 21, Pinnacle Entertainment announced a deal to buy Ameristar Casinos, which would give Pinnacle ownership of three of the region’s four biggest casinos.

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