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Crown Resorts has agreed to enter into exclusive acquisition talks with Blackstone Group after the US private equity group improved its bid for the Australian gaming company under pressure for about A$8.9 billion (US$6.5 billion).

Crown’s revised offer is estimated at A$13.10 per share, an increase of A$0.60 per share or about A$1 billion in additional cash from an earlier offer Blackstone made to the casino business, backed by Australian billionaire James Packer, in November.

The latest offer comes after the toy company’s board last year rejected several offers from the US takeover group, which already owns 9.99 percent of Crown.

Crown has, since May, been at the center of a bidding war between Blackstone and smaller casino rival Star Entertainment, which has sought a merger.

Star withdrew its stake in July when Australian authorities said Crown could lose its gambling license after an investigation into allegations of money laundering. That threat was lifted in September after the investigation concluded and Sydney-based Star continued to express its desire to revive its A$12 billion merger plan.

The Australian company said in a statement that Blackstone will complete its due diligence procedures in the coming days and if it decides to make a binding offer of at least A$13.10 per share, the offer will be unanimously accepted by Crown’s board of directors.

The deal highlights Blackstone’s continued interest in owning casinos as the private equity investor agreed in 2019 to acquire from MGM the real estate assets of the Bellagio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas for $4.25 billion.

Blackstone first contacted Crown after Australian regulators ruled in early 2021 that the gaming company was not suitable to operate a new A$2.2 billion casino resort in Sydney due to concerns about money laundering and corporate mismanagement.

The deal also highlights global investors’ continued interest in grabbing Australian assets despite the pandemic.

The Australian market has been one of the most active for deals over the past year, driven by cheap financing and private capital targeting listed assets ranging from telecoms to airports to funds themselves.

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