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Red Rock Resorts’ deficient board diversity claims [updated 7.28.22]

Update 7.28.22: Red Rock Resorts Inc. disclosed a revised diversity policy on April 26, 2022. Based on those changes, Red Rock Resorts removed its commitment to being open to recruiting well-qualified diverse candidates. See those revisions here and the 2022 policy here. We originally published the content below on January 31, 2022.

Red Rock is the only one of the nine publicly traded Nevada-based casino gaming companies with zero women on its board of directors. Its five-person board has been the same white men since its 2015 IPO and its justification to shareholders for its board composition relies on deficient claims.

See our letter to the SEC about Red Rock’s deficient board diversity claims here here.

In the Corporate Governance – Diversity section in its 2020 and 2021 proxy filings, Red Rock tells investors that it considers gender among its diversity characteristics and then explains that:

“Gaming regulatory agencies in certain of the jurisdictions in which we operate may require our directors to maintain licenses. The licensing process is onerous, invasive, time consuming and expensive. Because of this, it is difficult to identify well-qualified candidates willing to subject themselves, as well as their families, to the rigorous and intrusive process necessary to obtain a gaming license. As a result of the limited pool of potential directors and the strong qualifications of our present Board, we believe that the current composition of our Board is in the best interest of the Company. We remain continuously open to recruiting well-qualified diverse candidates to our Board.”

There isn’t a limited pool of potential directors for Nevada-based gaming companies

There are several indicators that suggest there is not a limited pool of potential directors for Nevada-based gaming companies. Every publicly traded Nevada-based casino gaming company except Red Rock has at least one woman serving as a director, amounting to 20 out of 76 directors, or 26%, with half of them joining these boards since 2018 [1].

Nationally, women now make up 30% of all directors in the S&P 500, which is up from 28% last year and 16% a decade ago. And in the Russell 3000 index, women of all races account for 27 percent of all directors, up from 24 percent.

The pool of female directors for Nevada casino gaming companies appears to be no smaller than national averages so it is concerning Red Rock justifies its board composition through the problematic idea that if only there were a larger pool of candidates then the Board might look different.

[CHART JANUARY 27, 2022]

A gaming license is not a justifiable obstacle to board diversity

Red Rock’s claims about board diversity also rely on the problematic assumption that the pool of potential directors is too small because of the gaming license process. The gaming license process is not a justifiable obstacle to board diversity, as evidenced by the presence of women on the boards of every publicly traded Nevada-based gaming company except Red Rock.

In fact, at least in Nevada, the licensing process should present no obstacle. Nevada gaming regulation 16.415 does not require licensing of every director of a publicly traded corporation, only of directors who are actively and directly engaged in the administration or supervision of gaming activities. The regulation identifies the board chair and chair of the audit committee as among the directors who must normally be licensed.

Meaning Red Rock can elevate directors to the Board without their undergoing the rigors of the licensing process where they do not require licensing.

Red Rock has an obligation to assess the effectiveness of its diversity policy

Red Rock shareholders deserve to know whether the Company’s diversity policy is effective or not. SEC rule 229.407(c)(2)(vi) states that “if the nominating committee (or the board) has a policy with regard to the consideration of diversity in identifying director nominees, describe how this policy is implemented, as well as how the nominating committee (or the board) assesses the effectiveness of its policy.”

So, what does Red Rock mean when it states in its diversity policy that “we remain continuously open to recruiting well-qualified diverse candidates to our Board”?

Red Rock’s three independent directors, Mr. Robert Cashell Jr., Mr. Robert Lewis, and Mr. James Nave, have been on the Red Rock board since its IPO, comprise the Nominating and Corporate Governance Committee, and were board members of Red Rock’s predecessor company since 2011.

What can the Company disclose to back up the claim that the recruitment of diverse candidates is active and ongoing?

NOTE 1:

COMPANY DIRECTOR YEAR JOINED
Full House Resorts Inc. 1 Kathleen M. Marshall 2007
Golden Entertainment Inc. 2 Ann N. Dozier 2019
Monarch Casino & Resort Inc. 3 Yvette Landau 2010
Las Vegas Sands Corp. 4 Micheline Chau 2014
5 Nora M. Jordan 2021
6 Yibling Mao 2021
Caesars Entertainment Inc. 7 Bonnie Biumi 2020
8 Jan Jones Blackhurst 2019
9 Sandra Douglass Morgan 2021
Boyd Gaming Corp. 10 Marianne Boyd Johnson 1990
11 Christine J. Spadafor 2009
12 Veronica Wilson 2003
MGM Resorts International 13 Mary Chris Jammet 2014
14 Alexis M. Herman 2002
15 Rose McKinney-James 2005
16 Jan Swartz 2018
Wynn Resorts Ltd. 17 Betsy S. Atkins 2018
18 Patricia Mulroy 2015
19 Margaret J. “Dee Dee” Myers 2018
20 Winifred “Wendy” Webb 2018

Red Rock Resorts Public Shareholders Vote for Change

Submitted by the New York State Common Retirement Fund and co-filed by SEIU Pension Plans Master Trust, Proposal 4 at Red Rock Resorts’ most recent annual meeting asked the board of directors to take steps to eliminate the company’s dual-class share structure. We argued that there were good reasons to support the proposal. Now, despite the proposal’s defeat, we assess that approximately 87% of the publically-held (non-insider) shares that were voted were cast in favor of it.

From the April 22 proxy filing, we estimate that the company’s named executive officers and directors, including controlling owners Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, had approximately 464.4 million votes thanks to the fact that each of the approximately 45.4 million B shares owned by the Fertittas was entitled to 10 votes. Assuming all the insiders voted against Proposal 4, approximately 6.7 million votes controlled by public holders were cast against the proposal, while more than 43.7 million votes were cast for it. (See the official tally here.) This means that 86.7% of the publically-held shares that were voted were cast in support of the proposal to change and improve the company’s corporate governance.

Proposal 4 Voting Results by Publically-Held Shares

Votes Percentages
FOR 43,758,349 86.7%
AGAINST 7,309,136 13.3%

This is the second time in three years public shareholders of Red Rock Resorts have voted to support a shareholder proposal to improve corporate governance. In 2019, CalPERS submitted a proposal to adopt majority voting for director elections (“Red Rock’s All-White, All-Male Board Draws Calpers’ Attention”, Bloomberg, 6/5/2019). We calculate that CalPERS’ proposal was supported by approximately 83.3% of the publically-held shares that were voted. Nevertheless, the company has not changed its plurality voting standard for director elections.

While Red Rock Resorts traces its history to the founding of Bingo Palace (which later became Palace Station), it cannot hold on to an anachronistic view of itself as a family business and continue to deny public investors a fair say in corporate governance. Red Rock Resorts can do better, and public shareholders of Red Rock Resorts deserve better. It should listen to public shareholders and adopt majority voting for directors and take steps to eliminate the dual-class share structure.

Three Reasons to Eliminate Red Rock’s Dual-class Voting Structure

Lagging Performance

Since Red Rock Resorts went public 5 years ago, its Class A share price has underperformed its peers and the market.

As of 5/26/21, RRR’s Class A shares have gained 116.61% over a 5-year period. Over the same timeframe, the share prices of other regional gaming operators Golden Entertainment, Inc. (GDEN), Boyd Gaming Corp. (BYD), Monarch Casino & Resort, Inc. (MCRI), and Penn National Gaming, Inc. (PENN) share prices went up 231.16%, 243.55%, 241.32%, and 463.43%, respectively. The NASDAQ also went up 180.27.91% over the same period.

Doing away with the dual-class share structure would be a good first step toward maximizing the value of Class A shares of Red Rock Resorts. In the words of a recent Wall Street analyst report: “RRR’s dual-class share structure is suboptimal for most investors and has historically been an impediment to valuation optimization.” (1)

An Entrenched Board

Two years ago, CalPERS raised the issue of board diversity with Red Rock. See Red Rock’s All-White, All-Male Board Draws Calpers’ Attention (Bloomberg, June 2019). At the time, Red Rock said “because the casino business requires an extensive licensing process for board members,” it is “difficult to find qualified candidates.”

Two years later, Red Rock continues to nominate the same five white men to its board and again blames the gaming licensing process for making it difficult to find diverse candidates in this year’s proxy. The company, however, fails to mention that other public-traded Nevada gaming companies have all somehow managed to seat women on their boards.

Doing away with the dual-class share structure is a smart step toward reforming an entrenched, all-white, all-male board at Red Rock Resorts.

Greater Transparency

Family office investments and share pledging by Red Rock’s controlling insiders raise questions about potential conflicts of interest.

Red Rock’s chairman and vice-chair, Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, have dual roles at Fertitta Capital, their family office founded in 2017 that has overlapping business interests with Red Rock in gaming, sports, betting, leisure, wellness, and food and beverage.

In 2019, Fertitta Capital led a $17.5 million funding round for a sports betting media company, The Action Network.  It remains unclear if Red Rock’s board vetted the deal and whether the family firm receives opportunities owed to shareholders and now competes with Red Rock.

Also, Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta pledged six million or 13% of Class B shares in Red Rock in September 2018 for a margin loan worth up to an estimated $155 million from UBS AG, a bank that was a lender to Red Rock but stopped doing so. The loan pledges appear no longer to be in effect.

To date, Red Rock has not made any disclosures about Fertitta Capital, nor has it explained why UBS started lending to company insiders and stopped lending to the company.

Doing away with the dual-class share structure is a smart step toward transparency and fully protecting Red Rock from potential conflicts of interest.

(1) J.P. Morgan, “Red Rock Resorts: Takeaways from Investor Meetings. Story Still Has Legs. Reaffirm Overweight. PT to $48 (+$1),” North America Equity Research, p. 6 (May 14, 2021).

Withhold the Vote 2018: Failure to Sunset Perpetual Dual-Class Stock

We encourage Red Rock Resorts shareholders to withhold authority to vote on their proxy card for the company’s board of directors – Frank J. Fertitta III, Lorenzo J. Fertitta, Robert A. Cashell, Jr., Robert E. Lewis, and James E. Nave, D.V.M. – at the upcoming annual stockholders meeting on June 14.

The many problems arising from the company’s perpetual dual-class stock make it necessary for outside shareholders to withhold their votes, especially after the company has made no attempt to address the significant shareholder discontent expressed at last year’s annual meeting.

Perpetual dual-class shares trade at a significant discount, risk index exclusion, and are opposed by major shareholder advocacy groups.

Read our report, Withhold the Vote 2018: Failure to Sunset Perpetual Dual-Class Stock

Selected Results: 2017 Corporate Governance Survey of Red Rock Shareholders

Following shareholder discontent at Red Rock’s annual meeting this July, in which 9% to 16% of equity holders withheld from the directors, we decided to survey Red Rock investors about their corporate governance issues. The survey this year measured shareholder sentiment toward Red Rock’s takeover defenses and features of its board of directors. We believe these topics are particularly important following another year of strong M&A activity in the gaming industry.

Despite the dissatisfaction expressed by shareholders and the negative voting recommendations from Institutional Shareholder Services for Red Rock’s entire board of directors surrounding the 2017 annual meeting, the company has not announced plans to remove, sunset, or put to a vote its takeover defenses. Nor has the company done anything to resolve its problematic board structure, which ISS gave its highest governance risk rating of 10 (as of June 19, 2017).[i]

The results of our survey reveal shareholder respondents expressed consensus for a hybrid format for the annual general meeting, took issue with the dual-class capital structure and other takeover defenses, and shared their preference for a more diverse board, an independent board chair, and their doubt regarding shareholder representation on the board.

See the selected results of the corporate governance survey below:

supervoting

preferred-stock tra supermajority written-consent special-meetings agms board-diversity independent-chair shareholder-representation

Notes

[i] Institutional Shareholder Services, “Proxy Alert: Red Rock Resorts, Inc.,” June 19, 2017, original publication date June 16, 2017, p. 1.

Law Firms Announce Investigations into Red Rock Resorts

Six law firms have announced investigations into Red Rock Resorts following the company’s annual meeting in July, when shareholders showed their dissatisfaction with the company’s directors.

1. Harwood Feffer LP
“Our investigation concerns whether the Company board of directors has breached its fiduciary duties to shareholders, grossly mismanaged the Company, and/or committed abuses of control in connection with potential self-dealing and related party transactions.”
Read the press release: http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/harwood-feffer-llp-announces-investigation-of-red-rock-resorts-inc-300489300.html

2. Andrew & Springer LLC
“Andrews & Springer LLC, a boutique securities class action law firm focused on representing shareholders nationwide, is investigating potential securities violation claims and breach of fiduciary duty claims against Red Rock Resorts, Inc.”
Read the press release: http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20170717005016/en/

3. Levi & Korsinsky, LLP
“Levi & Korsinsky announces it has commenced an investigation of Red Rock Resorts, Inc. (NASDAQ:RRR) concerning possible breaches of fiduciary duty.”
Read the press release: http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20170717006253/en/

4. Glancy Prongay & Murray LLP
“The investigation concerns whether the Company board of directors has breached its fiduciary duties to shareholders, grossly mismanaged the Company, and/or committed abuses of control in connection with potential self-dealing and related party transactions, including allegedly overpaying for Red Rock real estate.”
Read 1st press release: http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20170718006073/en/
Read 2nd press release: http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20170822006124/en/

5. Lifshitz & Miller LLP
“Lifshitz & Miller announces investigation on behalf of RRR investors concerning whether RRR’s board breached its fiduciary duties and engaged in self-dealing transactions, including allegedly overpaying for RRR real estate.”
Read the press release: http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/lifshitz–miller-llp-announces-investigation-of-blue-apron-holdings-inc-irobot-corporation-monogram-residential-trust-inc-quadrant-4-system-corporation-red-rock-resorts-inc-west-marine-inc-and-zto-express-cayman-in-300492913.html

6. Kahn Swick & Foti, LLC
“KSF’s investigation is focusing on whether Red Rock Resorts’ officers and/or directors breached their fiduciary duties to the Company’s shareholders or otherwise violated state or federal laws.”
Read 1st press release: http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20170728005837/en/
Read 2nd press release: http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20170811005623/en/

Outside Shareholders Dissent at Red Rock Resorts’ Annual Meeting

Outside shareholders of Red Rock Resorts demonstrated their dissatisfaction with the company’s directors at its July 6th meeting of stockholders, with the most opposition shown toward the independent directors.

Assuming all insiders voted their Class A and Class B shares in favor of management’s recommendation, then the total outside Class A shareholder vote “for” the directors was between 59% and 71%.[i] That means between 29% and 41% of outside shareholders did not vote “for” the company’s directors

Outside Class A Shareholder Support for Red Rock’s Directors

Director Outside Class A “For” Outside Class A “For” %
Frank J. Fertitta III 47,606,865 71%
Lorenzo Fertitta 46,912,406 70%
James E. Nave 40,389,581 60%
Robert E. Lewis 40,425,855 60%
Robert A. Cashell, Jr. 39,415,189 59%


Ernst & Young reports
that only 3.8% of Russell 3000 directors received less than 80% support from all shareholders (combined inside and outside) in 2017 (YTD, 5/31/2017). Therefore, a significant number of Red Rock’s outside shareholders expressed discontent with the entire board.

Alternatively, we can look directly at the “withhold” vote. Commenting on a 2012 study commissioned by the Investor Responsibility Research Center Institute, GMI’s Ratings director of research Kimberly Gladman said: “The average level of withheld votes in a director’s election is 5 percent; companies should be concerned when the level in an election exceeds 10 percent.”

To measure shareholder dissatisfaction this way at the recent Red Rock meeting, we reduce the super voting shares held by insiders to a one share, one vote standard. This adjusted votes figure more accurately reflects the desires of all equity holders, not just the Fertitta insiders. If all shareholders of Red Rock had equal voting rights and assuming no Class B shareholders withheld their votes, then the vote results show between 9% and 16% of shareholders withheld from the company’s directors.

Adjusted Votes Withheld from Red Rock’s Directors

Director Adjusted Votes Withheld Adjusted Votes Withheld %
Frank J. Fertitta III 10,593,246 9%
Lorenzo Fertitta 11,287,705 10%
James E. Nave 17,810,530 15%
Robert E. Lewis 17,774,256 15%
Robert A. Cashell, Jr. 18,784,922 16%

Red Rock’s closing share price on July 5th (the day before the annual meeting) was down 3.1% year-to-date compared with NASDAQ Composite Index’s gain of 13.3%. As of May 8th, Class A shareholders held 58.4% of the equity but only controlled 12.9% of the vote.[ii]

Read the letter and report we sent to Red Rock’s public investors, criticizing the company’s independent directors for anti-shareholder corporate governance measures and related-party transactions and encouraging investors to withhold votes from its independent directors.

ISS recommended withholding on all of the company’s directors, which we fully supported.

See table below for how we calculated inside, outside, and adjusted votes.

Inside and Outside Votes

Share Class Number of Shares Votes
Class A Shares Outstanding 67,778,152 67,778,152
Insider Class A Shares 516,326 516,326
Outside Class A Shares 67,261,826 67,261,826
Class B Shares Outstanding 48,327,396 456,799,632
Insider Class B Shares (1 vote per share) 2,941,592 2,941,592
Insider Class B Shares (10 votes per share) 45,385,804 453,858,040
Class A + B Outstanding 116,105,548 524,577,784
*Number of adjusted votes equals the number of Class A + B outstanding

[i] At the July 6th annual meeting, Richard Haskins, President of Red Rock Resorts, said as of record date (May 8, 2017) there were 67,778,152 Class A shares outstanding, 48,327,396 Class B shares outstanding, and 45,385,804 Class B shares with 10 votes per share. These figures were used to calculate the number of Class B shares with one vote per share, the voting power and equity of each class, and to estimate the number of insider and outsider “for” votes. The number of insider Class A shares comes from Red Rock’s DEFR14A, filed on May 26, 2017, p. 47.

[ii] See note i

Why It Is Necessary to Withhold Your Vote

In a new report we argue that it is necessary for Red Rock Resorts’ shareholders to withhold votes from the company’s three independent directors – James E. Nave, D.V.M., Robert E. Lewis, and Robert A. Cashell, Jr. – on their proxies for the company’s July 6, 2017 annual stockholders meeting.

Read our report encouraging shareholders to withhold votes on Red Rock’s independent directors.

We fully support ISS’ recommendation to withhold votes on all of Red Rock’s directors.

These long-serving directors have failed to advocate for the sunsetting of the company’s myriad of poor corporate governance features since its IPO last year, and they have not acted to prevent the enrichment of company insiders and related parties. We believe it is essential to send an unambiguous message to management that investors expect a higher standard of corporate governance at a publicly-traded company, especially now that outside shareholders own a majority of the economic interest in the company.

In taking the company public, Red Rock’s board of directors implemented several antitakeover measures, including a dual-class ownership structure with 10:1 super voting stock for insiders.

Red Rock’s three independent directors are the sole members of its Nominating and Corporate Governance Committee, which is responsible for monitoring the company’s governance matters. Furthermore, Red Rock’s independent directors have a history of approving transactions that are not in the best interest of the company or its outside shareholders.

For these reasons, we encourage Red Rock’s Class A shareholders to withhold their votes from the elections from Directors Nave, Lewis, and Cashell at the company’s upcoming annual meeting of stockholders.

Red Rock Corrects Violation of Securities Law in Proxy Statement

On June 8, 2017, we sent a letter to the SEC regarding Red Rock Resorts proxy statement filed on May 1, 2017 and its amended proxy statement filed on May 26, 2017. We noticed that Red Rock did not provide shareholders with the ability to withhold votes on its director elections even though the company uses a plurality voting system.

Under 17 C.F.R. § 240.14a-4(b)(2), a proxy that provides for the election of directors must provide means for security holders to withhold authority to vote for each nominee.  The proxy may do so by providing: (1) a box indicating that authority to vote is withheld; (2) an instruction that indicates a vote may be withheld by striking out the name of any nominee; (3) a blank space in which the voter may enter the names of nominees for whom votes are withheld; or (4) any similar means, provided that clear instructions are provided about how to withhold authority.

By not providing shareholders with the ability to withhold votes, the company was effectively preventing investors from registering their dissatisfaction with director nominees.

On June 16, 2017, Red Rock filed an amended proxy statement that corrected the voting options by providing shareholders with the ability to withhold their authority to vote.

When Management Destroys 2% of Shareholder Value with a Related-Party Deal

In its recently filed 10-Q, Red Rock Resorts discloses that it borrowed $120 million from its revolver to buy the land under two of its Las Vegas casinos from a related party. This means the April 27 transaction reduced the company’s equity by approximately $0.43 per share, or 1.93%. Investors should ask why Red Rock management thought this was a smart thing to do and whether the company’s independent directors reviewed and approved the costly related-party transaction.

Shareholder value destruction

On the first-quarter conference call with analysts, then-CFO Marc Falcone claimed the Boulder Station and Texas Station land purchase would let the company “pick up approximately $7 million of incremental EBITDA” on an annual basis (approximately the total savings of not having to pay rent anymore under those two leases.) What this implies is that the transaction created an approximately $70-million bump in the company’s enterprise value, if we use a 10x EV/EBITDA multiple on its Las Vegas business.

But the company added $120 million of debt in the process, which means that, net-net, there was in fact a negative $50 million hit on the equity value of the company, or the reduction of approximately $0.43 of equity value per share (based on a share count of approximately 116 million).

Equity Impact of RRR’s April 27 related-party land purchase

Add: Incremental EBITDA $7M
EV/EBITDA multiple 10x
Increase in Enterprise Value $70M
Subtract: Additional Net Debt $120M
Net Change in Equity Value ($50M)
Shares 116M
Net Change in Equity Value Per Share ($0.43)

The pre-transaction closing price of RRR Class A shares was $22.34. Red Rock management thus directly destroyed 1.93% of the company’s shareholder value with the April 27 related-party transaction. Alternatively speaking, management made its public shareholders take a $50M hit in their RRR holdings to pay for this related party deal. On a pro rata basis, Cohen & Steers, Red Rock’s largest institutional shareholder, lost $3.85M million of the value of its RRR shares; Fidelity lost $3.44M, Diamond Hill lost $1.88M, and Baron Capital lost $1.86M. No wonder some shareholders sounded less than thrilled with the related-party deal when approached by Bloomberg.

GAAP implications

Our analysis above would hold even if the company had use cash on hand to pay for the deal. Spending down cash would have increased net debt in the same way as borrowing more, which would have resulted in the same negative impact on equity value. But since Red Rock borrowed money to fund the transaction, there are implications for the company’s financials beyond EBITDA, a non-GAAP number that does not account for interest expense. At the very least, not all of the $7 million incremental EBITDA will flow through to net income and earnings per share because there would be increased interest expense on the new $120 million debt.

In addition, the 10-Q also states:

As a result of such acquisition and the termination of the ground leases, the Company expects to recognize a charge in an amount equal to the difference between the aggregate consideration paid by the Company and the acquisition date fair value of the land and residual interests, which charge is expected to have a material impact on its net income and earnings per share for the three and six months ending June 30, 2017 (emphasis added).

This begs the question: why did Red Rock pay more than market value? And, again, did the company’s independent directors review and approve the deal?