A Delaware judge has approved Caesars Entertainment’s choice of Illinois as the venue for the bankruptcy hearing of the casino operator’s main unit.
In an oral ruling on Wednesday, US Bankruptcy Judge Kevin Gross rejected a bid by some of Caesars’ junior creditors to force the bankruptcy hearing to be heard in Delaware. It was hoped the junior creditors would get a fairer shake in Delaware than in Illinois, where courts have traditionally been more lenient about assigning liability to non-bankrupt holding companies and affiliates. Caesars is owned by private equity funds Apollo Global Management and TPG Capital.
The junior creditors filed papers in Delaware on Jan. 12 to force Caesars into involuntary bankruptcy, beating Caesars’ own filing in Illinois by three days. Caesars is attempting to restructure its Caesars Entertainment Operating Co. (CEOC) unit into a real estate investment trust. The plan, which has secured the backing of most of CEOC’s first-lien note holders, would trim nearly $10b off CEOC’s $18.4b debt.
But most of the pain of this restructuring would be borne by second lien note holders, who can expect to receive around 10¢ on the dollar. This has led junior creditors to file multiple lawsuits, accusing Caesars’ hedge fund owners of “looting’ CEOC of its most profitable assets in a bid to shield these assets from creditors’ grasp. Last week, a federal judge in Manhattan said these controversial asset transfers and Caesars’ decision to remove debt guarantees represented an “impermissible” violation of the federal Trust Indenture Act of 1939.
In Wednesday’s oral ruling, Gross said “the interest of justice narrowly supports” Caesars’ desire for the proceedings to be heard by the Illinois court. Gross said the junior creditors’ involuntary bankruptcy filing “was clearly an anticipatory filing” and that they had “raced to the courthouse” to beat Caesars to the punch. Gross said letting the creditors dictate the venue would set a “bad precedent.”
But Gross also said Caesars’ asset shifting “on its face is suspect” and that he was confident his Illinois counterpart would put Caesars’ antics “under a magnifying glass.”