updated 3/13/2006 12:50:49 PM ET 2006-03-13T17:50:49

Pinnacle Entertainment Inc. said Monday it agreed to acquire smaller rival Aztar Corp. for roughly $1.45 billion in a deal that will create a nationwide casino network.

The combined company will have assets in most of the nation’s biggest gambling markets, with casinos in Nevada, New Jersey, Louisiana, Missouri and Indiana. Including development projects, the new entity will operate 12 major gambling properties.

The acquisition also allows Pinnacle to develop Phoenix-based Aztar’s Tropicana Las Vegas site.

Pinnacle said it would pay $38 in cash for each Aztar share, a 24 percent premium over Aztar’s closing stock price on Friday. It is also assuming $723 million in debt, pushing the overall value of the deal to $2.1 billion.

The boards of both companies unanimously approved the deal, which is expected to close by year-end.

Pinnacle owns and operates casinos in Nevada, Louisiana, Indiana and Argentina, a hotel in Missouri, and receives lease income from two casinos in the Los Angeles area, among other assets. Aztar owns five casinos in New Jersey, Nevada, Missouri and Indiana.

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