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May 22, 2019

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Caesars offers few clues on state of talks with Carl Icahn

Caesars

John Locher / AP

In this Monday, Jan. 12, 2015, file photo, a man takes pictures of Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.

Caesars Entertainment Corp. gave few clues Thursday as to the status of its talks with billionaire Carl Icahn, who has taken a large stake in the casino giant and says he wants fundamental changes in the company.

In a conference call following Caesars' fourth-quarter earnings report, President and CEO Mark Frissora reiterated an earlier statement that the company expects to continue a "constructive dialogue" with the activist investor.

Pressed by analysts, Fissora did provide a small insight into the company's search for a new leader, which Icahn wants a say on.

"We intend to carefully evaluate Mr. Icahn's suggestions, including his request for board representation and will provide updates in due course," said Frissora, who will leave Caesars in April.

A securities filing on Tuesday revealed Icahn has a 10 percent stake in the Las Vegas-based company. His filing showed he believes Caesars' stock is undervalued and the best way to boost it would be to sell the company.

Caesars reported fourth-quarter earnings of $198 million. The company said it had net income of 25 cents per share. Losses, adjusted for non-recurring gains, came to 18 cents per share.

The results did not meet Wall Street expectations. The average estimate of seven analysts surveyed by Zacks Investment Research was for a loss of 10 cents per share.

The casino operator posted revenue of $2.12 billion in the period, topping Street forecasts. Five analysts surveyed by Zacks expected $2.1 billion.

Icahn this week also revealed he wants to weigh in on who will replace Frissora, who joined Caesars in 2015 and then shepherded it through bankruptcy reorganization. Frissora was scheduled to leave the company this month, but his departure was postponed until the end of April.

The outgoing CEO on Thursday told analysts the search for his replacement is "far along in the process," and candidates have been interviewed. He said the board is looking for a seasoned executive who has worked through "turbulent times, adversity and been able to be tested."

"Someone that has experience in hospitality/gaming and related verticals that we participate in," he said. "Someone that, you know, would have a great reputation with investors."

Caesars, which operates more than 35 casinos in the U.S., exited an $18 billion bankruptcy in October 2017.

For the year, the company reported net income of $303 million, or 41 cents per share, swinging to a profit in the period. Revenue was reported as $8.39 billion.

Through the close of trading Thursday, shares in Caesars are up 39 percent since the beginning of the year. They were up 15 cents, or 1.6 percent, to $9.58 in extended trading following the release of the earnings report.