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Investors might not view the departures of several high-ranking casino and racetrack-operator executives as any sort of brain drain. Given these companies' eroding revenue, sinking share prices, and (in some cases) heavy debt, a better question might be, "What took so long?"
Some departures were stranger than others. J. Terrence Lanni, chairman and CEO of MGM Mirage (NYSE: MGM ) , announced his retirement in November. The Wall Street Journal reported that Lanni didn't receive the MBA he'd listed on his official biography. Lanni, who stepped down from the board, said his exit wasn't linked to the MBA matter.
Some departures, such as that of MTR Gaming Group's (Nasdaq: MNTG ) longtime leader Edson Arneault, were portrayed as orderly transitions. The company's CEO-change announcement came in September, two months after Arneault was re-elected chairman by shareholders. He resigned as chairman in October.
Other departures have been abrupt, or have occurred during financial calamity. The underlying theme in many of these cases is that the chairmen, key board members, and/or major shareholders still run the show.
William Weidner grabbed one of the biggest headlines when he departed as president, chief operating officer, and a director of Las Vegas Sands (NYSE: LVS ) . Weidner said he resigned on March 8, but the company said he had been told on March 4 that he would be replaced. Weidner clashed with Sheldon Adelson -- chairman, CEO, and principal shareholder -- over the speed and scope of financial restructuring.
Magna Entertainment, which filed for bankruptcy reorganization and was delisted from Nasdaq in March, hired an interim CEO in April. Magna's chairman and principal shareholder Frank Stronach had been the previous interim CEO. Since 2000, the company has had five CEOs in addition to Stronach -- who's served three times as interim CEO -- according to The Thoroughbred Times. Magna is the largest operator of horse racetracks in North America. Some tracks offer casino gambling, too.
A smaller racetrack company, Empire Resorts (Nasdaq: NYNY ) , said recently that its CEO and CFO were resigning as well. For now, Empire will be run by two directors who own the most significant shares in the company, and a chief restructuring officer.
In March, Empire's auditor told the SEC that it had "substantial doubt" about Empire's ability "to continue as a going concern" because of debt payments due May 29 and July 31.
Read between the lines
Stock-price carnage is one common link among all these executive changes:
- MGM Mirage: down 88% over the past year
- MTR: down 81%
- Las Vegas Sands: down 89%
- Empire Resorts: down 48%
The moral of this story?
Pay attention to management fundamentals as well as financial fundamentals. Such scrutiny will help investors determine whether they should read anything into the recent CEO change at International Game Technology (NYSE: IGT ) . The stock is down 66% over the past 12 months.
When evaluating management fundamentals, remember The Who's sage words: "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss." Given many companies' recent troubles, investors can only hope that new bosses can persuade old chairmen, directors, and big shareholders to change their ways.
Otherwise, make sure you remember the title of that 1971 Who song: "Won't Get Fooled Again."
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