Can Bethlehem Help Steel Las Vegas Sands?

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In a throwback to a time when Pennsylvania was known for thriving steel-making towns, Las Vegas Sands (NYSE: LVS  ) is set to open Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem in the renovated Bethlehem Steel plant.

The $743 million project is very well placed, as it is closer than Atlantic City to most people in New York and northern New Jersey. And while a tough economy like this may seem like a bad time to open a new casino, Pennsylvania's budding gaming industry -- which was only legalized in 2004 -- reported year-over-year growth of nearly 14% in April.

Sands Bethlehem is just another step that Sands has taken to further diversify itself outside of the Las Vegas Strip. Strip giant MGM (NYSE: MGM  ) has shown how a heavy debt load and an over-reliance on one geographic area can lead to grasping at straws. Sands and Wynn (Nasdaq: WYNN  ) , on the other hand, haven't had a fairytale ride through the recession, but have been buoyed by their significant exposure to non-Vegas markets like Macau. Gaming companies like Ameristar (Nasdaq: ASCA  ) and Penn National (Nasdaq: PENN  ) , neither of which has any Strip presence, have been holding up quite well during the storm.

As I've noted in the past, the Motley Fool's CAPS community hasn't had a particularly sanguine view of the casino industry. And Las Vegas Sands -- which sports a two-star rating out of a possible five -- is towards the bottom of the community's list. In fact, just recently, Frenchyx, one of CAPS' All-Stars, rated the stock an underperformer, citing its debt load and reported losses. Given the economic uncertainties and that heavy debt burden, I can't completely disagree.

At the same time though, I really like Sands' property portfolio, which includes the Venetian and Palazzo in Vegas; Sands, Venetian, and Four Seasons in Macau; and now Sands Bethlehem in Pennsylvania. And the company has plans for further development in Macau, as well as more diversification through a project in Singapore.

I fully expect that Sands could continue to take some lumps, but for those with a stomach for risk, I wouldn't wipe this stock off the radar.

Further Foolishness:

Ameristar Casinos is a Motley Fool Hidden Gems selection. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Matt Koppenheffer does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. You can check out what Matt is keeping an eye on by visiting his CAPS portfolio, or you can follow Matt on Twitter @KoppTheFool. The Fool’s disclosure policy has never once been caught with its pants down. Of course, it doesn't actually wear pants…

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