The winter doldrums appear to be setting in a little early for casino stocks as most companies went sideways for the past month. But that doesn't mean the industry has had a bad month from a performance standpoint.
The return of Las Vegas
There hasn't been much good news coming out of Las Vegas for a few years, but the Strip is starting to turn the corner and get some real momentum heading into 2011. Nevada's Gaming Control Board said Strip gambling revenue was up 16% in October and has seen double-digit gains in two of the past three months. Conventions are driving the growth with a 20% increase from last year.
The rest of Nevada wasn't quite as strong, but gaming revenue in the state did grow at 11% giving a boost to casinos off the Strip. Smaller operators like Boyd Gaming (NYSE: BYD ) and Monarch Casino & Resort (Nasdaq: MCRI ) will be helped by the statewide growth as Nevada starts a slow and painful recovery.
But will the growth continue? Not everyone is so sure, and at the recent Governor's Conference on Tourism some executives saw a tough 2011 coming despite the recent growth. Investors should make their bets wisely on any recovery in Nevada.
The online gaming bill that could help casino companies throughout the country is hanging on by a thread. But with every passing day, it is looking less and less likely that an online poker bill will be passed this year. MGM would be the most disappointed, but Boyd, Monarch, and other small operators wouldn't be shedding too many tears if the bill doesn't go through.
Turmoil in Macau
Macau continues to grow quickly, posting a 42.1% jump in gaming revenue during November. But some red flags have started popping up in the gambling enclave that investors should keep an eye on.
Las Vegas Sands (NYSE: LVS ) had its plans for two sites in Macau rejected this month. The high horse that Sheldon Adelson has been riding lost a little of its luster, and Sands' grandiose plans for the Cotai Strip are coming a bit into question.
Five building sites have been recalled overall, and there's no word right now if these sites will remain casino developments or be zoned for something else. Stanley Ho is reportedly interested in the sites, and with $495 million of cash, Melco Crown (Nasdaq: MPEL ) would have the capital to add another casino if the opportunity arose.
And then there was word from Xinhua News Agency that regulators are looking to tighten control on Macau's gaming market. It's been more than a year since Macau lifted travel restrictions for Guangdong residents, and gaming companies have benefited from the free travel, but regulators think it may be going too far. The reports this time suggested the government is looking to control the number of table games, slot machines, and new casinos. This could limit the development plans of Las Vegas Sands and Wynn Resorts going forward.
What's next for gambling?
Wynn Resorts should be announcing its new Macau development sometime soon, adding to the growing list of casinos on the Cotai Strip. Could recent developments in Macau be putting those plans into question?
The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas is only two days from opening its doors. The resort sandwiched between CityCenter and Bellagio is the latest casino to open in the market and may be opening at just the right time. With Strip gaming revenue coming back, it will be easier for the area to absorb another new casino without getting into a price war. Owner Deutsche Bank (NYSE: DB ) probably doesn't want to be in the casino business for the long term, so getting the resort off to a good start will be key.
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