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Neil Bluhm, Managing principal, Walton Street Capital
Why we're watching: Shrewd real estate deals made Bluhm rich, but his foray into casinos is what will garner him headlines in 2013.
He'll be weighing whether to build a casino in Massachusetts and whether to expand his gambling operations in Canada.
He also is moving into the world of Internet gaming as states consider legalizing it one by one. And then he's looking to protect one of his newest investments, the Rivers Casino in Des Plaines, which opened in 2011.
Any gambling expansion, if approved by the General Assembly and the governor in 2013, would be a considerable threat to Rivers, the state's highest-grossing casino. If a Chicago casino or slots at horse tracks are approved, then Bluhm wants to be able to add more slot machines and pay lower tax rates in Des Plaines.
"We absolutely need both," Bluhm said when asked whether he would accept one without the other. "We couldn't possibly survive. The numbers won't work. If we just lower tax rates and couldn't expand, we would be crushed."
Meanwhile, litigation has delayed an expansion plan at Bluhm's SugarHouse casino in Philadelphia. And Bluhm also is out raising money for Walton Street Capital's seventh fund. The firm is seeking to rebound after the disastrous purchase of CalWest, a large West Coast industrial real estate portfolio, at the height of the real estate market.
"The real estate market has improved," Bluhm said. "Modestly, though. Vacancies are going down and prices going up because interest rates are so low and there's been no new construction."
Photo: Neil Bluhm, chairman of the Midwest Gaming and Entertainment LLC, at the Rivers Casino in Des Plaines in 2011. (José M. Osorio/ Chicago Tribune)
January 7, 2013