Gambling Execs Exit; Should Investors Follow?

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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?"

The odd
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.

The orderly
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.

The dramatic
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."

For more Foolishness:

Fool contributor Robert Steyer doesn't own shares of companies cited in this story. Out here in the fields, The Motley Fool's disclosure policy fights for its meals.

Read/Post Comments (2) | Recommend This Article (13)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On April 27, 2009, at 6:16 PM, catoismymotor wrote:

    Off the top of my head, I'd say you're looking at a Boeski, a Jim Brown, a Miss Daisy, two Jethros and a Leon Spinks, not to mention the biggest Ella Fitzgerald ever, before I would purchase a casino stock.

  • Report this Comment On April 28, 2009, at 11:27 PM, lowtechie1 wrote:

    Trust me on this one............with some gaming revs showing down 50%, and convention business off 40-60% at major hotels, and a slow summer coming up, the numbers will be devastating for all casino stocks. LVS just announced they have to sell their prized China casinos (new maga resorts), just to stay afloat. Adelson, Loveman, and Kirkorian are all toast.

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