Betting on MGM

Though results for its third quarter were respectable, the real story for casino operator MGM Mirage (NYSE: MGM  ) is what the company has in the works.

Making the usual comparison to Wall Street analysts' prior expectations was more difficult than usual because of some one-time events such as a sizable insurance recovery for damage during Hurricane Katrina. So depending on how you look at it, MGM may have beaten or missed analyst projections by a fair margin.

Beau Rivage, MGM's Biloxi, Miss., casino, reopened at the end of August last year, so MGM's results got a boost from a full-quarter contribution from the casino this time around, as opposed to just 33 days last year. Excluding Beau Rivage, revenue was up 2% year over year, led by a strong performance in hotel rooms but hurt by a decline in gaming revenue. Though slot revenue was up, hold percentages at the table games (the percentage of buy-ins that the casino keeps) was down from the prior year and led to a 5% decline in table-game revenue.

I don't want to give the mistaken impression that casino revenue is losing any importance -- it accounted for more than $800 million of MGM's $2 billion in gross revenue and is still the big, high-margin breadwinner. However, the growth in revenue from food and beverages and from entertainment should be noted. The two areas combined for $548 million in revenue during the quarter and rose a combined 16% for the first nine months of the year.

The real excitement for MGM, and the reason investors are currently willing to pay more than 40 times projected 2007 earnings for the stock, is what lies ahead. At the beginning of this month, its new MGM Grand Detroit opened, so there was no contribution from that in the third-quarter results -- in fact, overall slot revenues were hurt by the winding down of the interim facility in Detroit. The company is also continuing work on the massive CityCenter project, its property in Macau, and has announced plans for a new resort property on the Las Vegas Strip as well as for an MGM Grand in Atlantic City.

MGM isn't the only one expanding. Wynn (Nasdaq: WYNN  ) has been making headway on its Encore hotel, Las Vegas Sands (NYSE: LVS  ) has Palazzo in the works, and Harrah's (NYSE: HET  ) is pumping a bunch of money into an expansion of Caesars. But even with everyone upping the ante, I think that MGM is holding some pretty interesting cards.

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