Macau Is Still the Place to Be

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For years, Macau has been the world's largest gambling market, but size doesn't seem to be slowing down growth in the former Portuguese colony. In fact, growth is picking up in 2011, even as investors half a world away worry about how U.S. and European debt problems will impact the economy.

Analysts can't keep up
In January, analysts at CLSA increased their estimate of Macau gaming revenue growth to 30% from 20%, with Macau expected to continue its hot streak. After gaming grew 52.4% in June, even that increase seems to be a little weak.

David Bain with Sterne, Agee & Leach is expecting growth to exceed 43% in Macau this year, after growing 58% last year. That's music to the ears of gaming executives across Macau, who are driving record profits this year.

The growth will also help absorb new capacity from Galaxy Macau and a new casino from Las Vegas Sands (NYSE: LVS  ) expected to open early next year. Casinos will still fight over pieces of the pie, but when the pie is growing this quickly, everyone should win.

Mass market grows
In a place where VIP play dominates gaming profitability, it's encouraging to see visitation picking up in Macau, indicating that the mass market is growing. Visitation increased 14.5% in June from last year, and it's been rising steadily since growing only 1.4% in January.

Wynn Resorts (Nasdaq: WYNN  ) focuses most heavily on VIP play, which means Melco Crown (Nasdaq: MPEL  ) , MGM Resorts (NYSE: MGM  ) , and Las Vegas Sands will be taking most of the mass-market play, in all likelihood. Mass-market players require much less in promotions from the casino, making them very profitable when they reach Macau.

Foolish bottom line
Macau now rakes in roughly four times the gaming revenue of Las Vegas, and it shows no signs of slowing down. Unless the Chinese government steps in to control growth somehow, I'd still focus my gaming investments on this red-hot island.

Motley Fool newsletter services formerly recommended Melco Crown Entertainment. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Travis Hoium does not have a position in any company mentioned. You can follow Travis on Twitter at @FlushDrawFool, check out his personal stock holdings or follow his CAPS picks at TMFFlushDraw. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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