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Apollo Global Management, the New York-based private equity firm, received preliminary approval from Nevada gaming regulators Wednesday for its portion of the $6.25 billion sale of the Strip properties owned by Las Vegas Sands Corp.
Much of the more than two-and-a-half-hour hearing in Las Vegas focused on what regulators described as the “elephants in the room,” including the firm’s controversial former chairman Leon Black and the reasons behind Apollo’s two-year-long bankruptcy reorganization that ended its 11-year ownership of Caesars Entertainment.
Apollo is acquiring the operations of The Venetian, Palazzo and Venetian Expo Center for $2.25 billion. Las Vegas Sands is providing $1.2 billion of seller financing with the private equity company putting up $1.05 billion. Real estate investment trust VICI Properties is paying $4 billion for 63 acres of Strip real estate, as well as an additional 19 adjacent acres off Koval Drive where the $1.8 billion MSG Sphere is being developed.
The three-member control board unanimously approved the transaction, which will be considered by the Nevada Gaming Commission on Feb. 17.
“I appreciate the explanations and I’m happy to support these applications,” said control board member Philip Katsaros, who said he “wasn’t 100 percent sure” about Black and asked several pointed questions.
Black stepped down from Apollo last March after published reports surfaced detailing his connections and alleged payments to disgraced financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
Apollo partner David Sambur and General Counsel for Litigation and Regulation Brian Carney said Black is considered a minority investor, has no authority over the company’s operations and is not planning to try to rejoin Apollo’s board.
Katsaros said the control board would continue to monitor any activity surrounding Black, and Chairman Brin Gibson noted that regulators could question Apollo any time after the company is licensed.
Sambur, during a long presentation to the board, said the company views the Sands properties, which have a combined 7,100 hotel rooms, 225,000 square feet of casino space and 2.3 million square feet of convention space, “as expansion opportunities.” He told the control board Apollo is already developing a master plan for the facilities.
“There is room for growth, and we see that opportunity,” Sambur said.
He said the current Venetian management, led by General Manager George Markantonis, would remain in place.
“Our philosophy is we’re going to empower the management teams to continue to operate,” he said.
Markantonis told the control board he has assured Venetian employees the transition to new ownership would be seamless. He said roughly 500 of the original 4,000 employees that opened the Venetian in 1998 are still employed at the property.
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