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Harrah's first-quarter profit rises 75 percent

/ Source: The Associated Press

Harrah's Entertainment Inc. on Thursday reported its acquisition of rival Caesars casinos in Las Vegas and other gambling meccas helped lift first-quarter net income 75 percent, topping Wall Street views.

The world's largest casino operator said profit rose to $182.4 million, or 98 cents per share, from $103.8 million, or 90 cents per share. Earnings from continuing operations rose to 95 cents per share from 77 cents in the year-ago January-March period.

Gary Loveman, Harrah's chairman, president and chief executive, said the integration of Caesars created savings for the company ahead of schedule. The $9 billion acquisition of Caesars Entertainment Inc. last year was pinned as among the biggest reasons revenue surged 93 percent to $2.4 billion from $1.2 billion in the year-ago period.

Results easily topped Wall Street projections for earnings of 92 cents per share on $2.24 billion of revenue, according to analysts polled by Thomson Financial.

"The 2006 first-quarter produced the best operating results in Harrah's history due to continued successful execution of an organic-growth strategy that has enabled us to record same-store sales growth in all but one of the past 34 quarters," Loveman said in a statement.

He said the company achieved its projected $80 million first-year synergy target for the Caesars properties by the end of the first quarter _ three months ahead of schedule. Looking forward, he projects the second year of Caesars ownership will yield about $180 million of synergies.

This also comes despite the loss of casino operations due to hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Harrah's owns casinos in both New Orleans and Biloxi, Miss. that were damaged and closed due to the storms.

The company is also moving ahead with plans for ventures in Spain, Slovenia and the Bahamas, and recently submitted a final bid for a multibillion dollar resort in Singapore.

Shares of Harrah's were trading up 30 cents in premarket activity, following Wednesday's close of $78.27 on the New York Stock Exchange.