Sunday, July 13, 2003

Casinos are where action is

Fort Mitchell hotel firm placing bet on gaming

By Robert Anglen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The flagging hotel market has a Fort Mitchell-based hotel operator looking to double the number of its casinos by the end of the year.

Columbia Sussex Corp. this month went forward with plans to buy a Jackson, Miss., casino from Harrah's Entertainment Inc. and intends to open two more casinos in Nevada - giving the company a total of six casinos.

"The hotel market is flat," said Joe Yung, director of development for the family-owned business. "Our casinos didn't get hurt by the drop in the economy the way our hotels did."

Columbia, ranked fourth among the Greater Cincinnati 100 list of privately owned companies with $531 million in revenues, already owns casinos in Greenville, Miss., and Nevada.

Yung said gaming investments make sense while the hotel market remains stagnant.

"We've just seen a lot of opportunities," he said. "There is a better deployment of equity in casinos than hotels."

The company, which has been in Fort Mitchell for 30 years, operates 57 hotels and resorts in 26 states under franchises such as Marriott, Radisson and Crowne Plaza.

The Vicksburg hotel and casino in Jackson was the smallest of all 26 Harrah's properties. But it is about the same size as Columbia's two Greenville casinos - the Bayou Caddy Jubilee and the Lighthouse Point - with 665 slot machines and 15 table games. It also has 117 hotel rooms. Harrah's officials said the Vicksburg casino no longer fit with company plans.

Yung said Columbia has owned casinos for 13 years and by the end of the year will have three in Mississippi and three in Nevada, including one on the edge of Lake Tahoe.

Columbia floated plans for Indiana riverboat casinos in Lawrenceburg and Switzerland County when the state legalized gambling in 1993. In license applications, the company submitted a $62 million proposal for Lawrenceburg and a $32 million one for Switzerland County. The company later withdrew its proposals, saying only that it would pursue other developments.

Columbia might be one of the Tristate's biggest private companies, but it has kept a low profile since it was started by Bellevue native William Yung in 1972.

Last year, Adam's Mark hotel chain backed out of a deal to sell six hotels to Columbia, which asked for an extension on a contract deadline. The company had agreed to buy hotels in Houston, Philadelphia; Memphis, Tenn.; Columbia, S.C.; Colorado Springs, Colo., and Clearwater, Fla.



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