EAST ST. LOUIS, IL—Seven hundred employees have agreed to buy the Casino Queen Hotel & Casino here for $170 million through a stock ownership plan.

Casino Queen Inc., the owner and operator, is selling 100 percent of the equity interest in the property to the newly formed Employee Stock Ownership Plan. The casino is on land next to the eastern bank of the Mississippi River, across from downtown St. Louis. The site includes a 157-room hotel, three restaurants, 6,250 sq. ft. of meeting space, a 132 recreational vehicle park and a 40,000-sq.-ft. gaming floor with 1,100 slot machines and 27 table games.

The privately run organization will create an enhanced retirement benefits plan tied to the performance of the property and provide liquidity for employees when they retire or leave the company. The private nature of the ESOP permits management to focus on strategies for the long-term benefit of the company and creation of wealth for its employees, according to the former owner in a statement. The purchase price includes the assumption and refinancing of approximately $31 million in existing indebtedness.

Management of the ESOP will be led by co-trustees Jeff Watson, current general manager with Casino Queen, and Bob Barrows, current CFO. Watson and Barrows, along with the company's newly formed Board of Directors, will provide daily governance and operations oversight. GreatBanc Trust Co. acted as independent ESOP trustee during the acquisition process. Wells Fargo Securities LLC acted as sole lead arranger and sole bookrunner in connection with the debt financing. Husch Blackwell LLP acted as lead legal counsel to Casino Queen in connection with the acquisition. Innovation Capital, LLC served as financial advisor and Duff and Phelps Securities LLC advised the company with respect to formation of the ESOP.