Las Vegas Sands (NYSE: LVS ) quietly took a big blow last week when the Macau government failed to approve its land concession for its final two parcels of land on the Cotai Strip. (They are called sites 7 and 8.) The planned Hilton, Conrad, Fairmont, and Raffles hotels would have been the next master development for Las Vegas Sands, although no construction date had been set.
This is important because we've seen Macau gaming dollars move to the Cotai Strip; casinos there are becoming more profitable and the land is more sought after. If the government's decision stands, it would be a blow to Las Vegas Sands' master plan for the area, which would include The Venetian Macau, sites 5 and 6 (currently under construction), and new developments at sites 3, 7, and 8.
The developments at sites 7 and 8 were planned to have 6,154 hotel rooms, 378,000 square feet of gaming area, and 577,000 square feet of retail space. This would have given Las Vegas Sands a stranglehold on the valuable Cotai Strip.
Las Vegas Sands isn't out of the running, but there are rumors Stanley Ho's SJM wants the properties, and if they become available no doubt Melco Crown (Nasdaq: MPEL ) would be interested to add to the City of Dreams. Wynn Resorts (Nasdaq: WYNN ) has land on the Cotai Strip ready for development and hasn't been aggressive to expand there, so I doubt it would be interested.
What should really throw investors for a loop is the apparent end to the cozy relationship between casino companies and the Macau government. Las Vegas Sands has already sunk $162 million into the property, according to Sands China CEO Mike Leven. Building before final approval is the way Macau has operated for years, with The Venetian Macau, Melco's City of Dreams, and SJM's Grand Lisboa all starting construction before official land grants were made. Maybe we're in for some real changes in Macau.
In another blow to Las Vegas Sands, Xinhua News Agency reported, Macau's government may begin to tighten gaming controls again after years of explosive growth.
It's been a long run higher for Macau casino stocks and Las Vegas Sands in particular. As a result, there is a lot of growth priced in and the perfect conditions for growth won't last forever. Dynamics may be changing and it's at least time to consider whether it's time to take a breather from Macau casino stocks until prices become a little more attractive. It's easy to fall in love with a stock when it's going up, just don't let it break your heart by hanging on too long.
Split the kings: