Penn National Gaming says it is discussing acquiring rival casino owner Pinnacle Entertainment and creating a unified company operating 45 properties, potentially including ones in Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Lake Charles and Bossier City.

Pinnacle leases and operates L'Auberge Casino & Hotel Baton Rouge, L'Auberge Casino Resort Lake Charles, Boomtown Casino and Hotel New Orleans and Boomtown Casino and Hotel Bossier City.

In 2013 Penn National spun off Gaming and Leisure Properties, a real estate investment trust that owns and operates Hollywood Casino Baton Rouge among its properties.

Pinnacle sold its Louisiana properties in 2016 to Gaming and Leisure Properties and has been paying hundreds of millions of dollars a year in rent to Gaming and Leisure Properties to lease and operate the four riverboats.

Pennsylvania-based Penn National and Las Vegas-based Pinnacle said in brief statements Thursday their discussions may or may not lead to a transaction. Penn National said the discussions revolve around purchasing Pinnacle in a cash and stock transaction.

It said any transaction will require approval from the two companies' boards, as well as regulators and shareholders.

Ronnie Jones, chairman of the Louisiana Gaming Control Board, said because Gaming and Leisure Properties is “pretty separated out” from Penn National, a potential Penn National-Pinnacle deal shouldn’t have issues with state regulators.

But Jones cautioned it was “too early” to get into the weeds of a potential deal and how it would affect the local casino market. “I know the companies had been talking, then they stopped talking and now they’ve started again,” he said.

Penn National has 29 properties. Pinnacle has 16 properties. A combined company would have more than $5 billion in revenue.

L'Auberge is the newest casino in Baton Rouge and the one that brings in the most revenue. The casino opened in September 2012 and in October brought in $13.3 million in revenue, according to the gaming board's most recent figures. In contrast, the other two Baton Rouge riverboats combined brought in $9.2 million in revenue. 

Merger activity involving local casino operators has been picking up recently. Earlier this year, Eldorado Resorts, which has a casino in Shreveport, bought Isle of Capri Casinos Inc. and its 14 casinos for $1.7 billion. Gaming and Leisure Properties bought Bally’s Casino Tunica and Resorts Casino Tunica in Robinsonville, Mississippi, for $82.6 million.

“There’s a lot of fluidity in the gaming market around the country,” Jones said. Based on past experience, when casinos change hands, customers don’t notice much of a difference.