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Harrah's Profit Burdened By Weak Atlantic City

Harrah's Entertainment , which agreed in December to be acquired by two private equity firms for $17.1 billion, posted lower-than-expected quarterly profit on Tuesday amid weak earnings at its casinos in Atlantic City, N.J.

Increasing competition from the new Borgata casino and gaming in nearby Pennsylvania are taking their toll on Atlantic City, the second-largest gambling destination in the U.S. after Las Vegas.

"Atlantic City definitely has some issues in front of it," said Smedes Rose, an analyst at Calyon Securities. "Clearly, it's hard to argue that a significant amount of new competition is a positive."

The weak results from Harrah's as well as a first-quarter profit warning from casino equipment market Shuffle Master sent gaming shares lower. The Standard & Poor's Casinos Gambling index was down 2.3%.

Harrah's, the world's biggest casino operator, posted fourth-quarter net income of $47.6 million, or 25 cents a share, compared with a net loss of $142.2 million, or 78 cents a share, a year earlier when it was impacted by closures due to hurricanes.

Harrah's adjusted earnings from continuing operations fell 42 percent to 45 cents a share, while revenue rose 16 percent to $2.43 billion. Analysts, on average, had expected a profit of 65 cents a share on revenue of $2.31 billion, according to Reuters Estimates.

"Development costs and narrower margins in Atlantic City than in the 2005 fourth quarter impacted overall property (earnings) and, combined with higher interest expenses, affected per-share results," Chief Executive Gary Loveman said in a statement.

Income from Harrah's operations in the Atlantic City region fell 33.4%, as it spent more on promotions to attract visitors and prepared the opening of Harrah's Chester in Pennsylvania. Income from its Las Vegas casinos rose 32.1%.

Harrah's, which owns or manages more than 40 casinos under brand names such as Harrah's, Caesars and Horseshoe, agreed in December to be acquired for $90 a share by private equity firms Apollo Management and Texas Pacific Group.

Stockholders in Harrah's are scheduled to meet on April 5 to vote on the proposed buyout.

The company completed late last year its acquisition of British casino operator London Clubs International Plc and is developing projects in the Bahamas, Spain and Slovenia.

Shuffle Master Warns

Shuffle Master, which makes card shufflers and slot machines, said it expected first-quarter earnings to be "significantly lower" than the previous year as it struggles to generate returns from the acquisition last year of electronic table game maker Stargames.

Shuffle Master said that operating costs rose because of Stargames and revenues and profit margins from some of Stargames' profit lines were lower than expected. It also said product approval for Stargames' multi-player electronic table games has been slower than anticipated.

As a result of the weak performance, the company said it is evaluating certain changes to its product mix and operations.

Shuffle Master's stock fell, while shares of Trump Entertainment Resorts, which operates three casinos in Atlantic City, also moved lower.