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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Penguins Update.

The Pens are 15-12-5, good for a third place tie with the Islanders in the Atlantic Division. They are 3 points behind the second place Devils and 5 points behind the first place Rangers, who are winning with smoke and mirrors, but no defense.

Tonight, the Penguins host the hapless St. Louis Blues at Mellon Arena.

From the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

Penguins' future uncertain
Two suitors for the Penguins re-emerged Monday, even as owner Mario Lemieux refused to speculate on the National Hockey League team's future ownership.

Lawrence Gottesdiener, a Massachusetts developer involved in earlier talks to purchase the team, said he's interested in buying the Penguins after prospective owner Jim Balsillie broke off talks with the NHL on Friday. But he's not certain the deal with Balsillie is really dead.

"We've been following it closely," Gottesdiener said. "However ... I'm not really sure there is an opportunity to step in. The NHL knows what it is doing, and Balsillie is a capable businessman with the means to continue with that transaction."

Gottesdiener's interest -- and that of Toronto businessman Frank D'Angelo -- resurfaced as ownership uncertainty dogged the Penguins and the team's gambling partner, St. Louis-based Isle of Capri Casinos, and a second applicant for Pittsburgh's lone slots casino.

Cleveland-based Forest City Enterprises wants Harrah's Entertainment to run its proposed Station Square casino, but Harrah's yesterday was reported to be considering a buyout offer, which could give the world's largest gambling company a new owner before a Pittsburgh casino opens.

The seven-member state Gaming Control Board is scheduled to vote Wednesday on awarding 11 slots licenses across the state.

Five groups are seeking two licenses for Philadelphia. Five more are competing for two at-large licenses -- two from the Poconos and one each from Allentown, Bethlehem and Gettysburg. Six tracks with conditional licenses are expected to receive permanent licenses.

Board spokesman Doug Harbach said the board would not consider Harrah's pending sale when deciding to award the licenses. He declined to comment on how the board might react to the turn of events in the sale of the Penguins.

Isle of Capri, which has promised to pay $290 million for a new arena, worked to squelch rumors it had a hand in Balsillie's decision.

"This was not an orchestrated, contrived thing," Isle of Capri spokesman Les McMackin said. "The result of this transaction falling apart, we had nothing to do with that at all. It was strictly between the NHL and Mr. Balsillie."

Lemieux said he was "obviously disappointed" that Balsillie could not close a deal with the NHL to buy the team.

"I was shocked," he said during a late afternoon news conference.
In a statement, Lemieux said he was "offended" that Balsillie backed out of the deal, and that the team would keep Balsillie's deposit because it believed the Canadian billionaire breached an agreement.

"The deal with Mr. Balsillie is dead," Lemieux said in his statement. But when asked if Balsillie might become a prospective owner again, Lemieux did not rule out the possibility.
Since the $175 million offer was withdrawn, potential buyers have expressed a lot of interest, Lemieux said.

D'Angelo, CEO of Steelback Breweries, said he hoped to talk with the Penguins this week about a possible purchase. He said he would partner with billionaire Barry Sherman, owner of Apotex, a phamacutical company in Canada.

Both would commit to keeping the club in Pittsburgh, even if Isle of Capri isn't awarded the slots license.

Andrew Murstein, president of Medallian Financial Group in New York, and Sam Fingold, owner of Keyon Investments LLC in Hartford, Conn., each told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review they would be interested in bidding again for the Penguins.

Fingold signed a letter of intent to purchase the club last June, but his bid fell through.

Another one-time prospective owner of the franchise, William Del Biaggio III, entered into a long-term lease with Kansas City's Sprint Center last month with the specific intent to bring an NHL club to that city.

Del Biaggio, a venture capitalist from San Jose, Calif., had his bid to puchase the Penguins fall through not long after the team won the rights to draft Sidney Crosby in July 2005. He declined comment when asked whether he was interested in renewing talks to purchase the team and potentially relocate it to Kansas City.

Lemieux said his ownership group "had not decided yet" whether the team would still be sold if state gambling regulators grant Isle of Capri the $50 million slots license.

Isle of Capri, Harrah's and Detroit-based Majestic Star Casino, the third applicant for a Pittsburgh casino license, had waived their right to appear before the state Gaming Control Board today. But yesterday it appeared they would use their final 15 minutes after all.

"Our only opportunity to make sure the board hears directly from us are these oral arguments," McMackin said. "We're as shocked and disappointed as everybody else (with Balsillie's decision).
Don't hold that against us. We didn't have anything to do with it."

While the sale of Las Vegas-based Harrah's would not likely change the company's plans for Pittsburgh, it could hurt Forest City's bid if board members questioned the impact, industry analysts said.

A Forest City spokesman declined to comment before the deal, which values Harrah's at $16.7 billion, is officially announced. That could come as early as today.

Harrah's has agreed to a $90-per-share buyout offer from two private equity groups -- Apollo Management Group and Texas Pacific Group, said a person with knowledge of the negotiations.

It's unlikely that Harrah's would seek to get out of running the Pittsburgh casino, which would be a valuable asset, said Steven Wieczynski, a Legg Mason analyst. But the uncertainty could give gambling board members pause.

"With a little uncertainty in there, (Forest City) might get pushed to the back burner," Wieczynski said. "It's gonna take 9 to 12 months to get this deal done, looking at a little uncertainty. What are new owners going to do?"

Penguins notebook

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