Casinos Are Getting Ready for the Jackpot

With continued growth in Macau to keep everyone happy in the short term and new markets opening up, the big casino players may be headed toward their best years ever.

Jan 7, 2014 at 3:10PM

Last year was great for big-time-gaming stocks such as Wynn Resorts (NASDAQ:WYNN), Las Vegas Sands (NYSE:LVS), and MGM Resorts International (NYSE:MGM). Investors saw continued growth in the world's new gaming mecca, Macau, along with unexpected strength in Vegas. Now, with new markets on the horizon and the carrot stick of online gaming getting closer and closer, the coming year may be just as good if not better than the last.

Wynn Resorts is up nearly 60% over the last 12 months. Las Vegas Sands is just under that, up around 55%. And the previously beleaguered MGM Resorts is up more than 80%. Not a bad run for discretionary stocks during a period of cautious economic recovery.

Leading the charge again in 2013 was Macau. Month after month, analysts saw Macau growth outpace predictions. Total gambling revenue for the region hit $45.2 billion -- near 20% more than 2012's number and beyond all forecasts. For 2014, analysts expect some slowing for the Chinese gambling giant, but it's still pegged at a promising10%. As the credit environment tightens up in the region, Macau may see fewer visitors, but the ones who do come are predicted to stay longer and spend more.

All three companies have a presence on Macau, and wisely so, as it generates seven times the revenue that the Las Vegas Strip does. Wynn is in the midst of building a $4 billion flagship property, while Las Vegas Sands is spending $2.7 billion on the Parisian, and MGM is adding on with the $2.6 billion MGM Cotai.

The area will keep driving growth for the companies in the short term, but new prospective Asian markets could yield another round of rocketship growth in the near future.

Taiwan and Japan
Matsu is a small island that is actually closer to mainland China than it is Taiwan. The name has gotten quite a bit of press lately as its local and national governments have moved toward legalizing gambling. All three casino companies are waiting for the green light, at which point there will no doubt be a land-grab frenzy (if it already hasn't happened behind closed doors). Given Matsu's proximity to the mainland, the tiny resort area could become just as important as Macau.

Also on the docket is opening the doors to Japan, according to The Wall Street Journal. Long an illegal business, casinos are set to enter the light as Japanese regulators see it as a boost to the country's ambitious growth plans. While there is still much to be determined on the regulatory level, the Journal article put a possible date of 2016 for licensing out casinos in the country.

Though tables and slot machines are currently outlawed, Japan has long enjoyed gambling in the form of races and lotteries. The Journal article put Japanese gambling spending at 30% of the country's total leisure spending.

Either prospect spells more good times for the big three casino operators. Though the stocks are all trading at premiums to their previous levels, the potential for substantial growth may put the value beyond the price.

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