The Cotai Strip continues to be the best location in gaming, and no company has more exposure there than Las Vegas Sands (NYSE:LVS). So it should be no surprise that Cotai helped drive the company's revenue up 21.4% in the first quarter to $4.01 billion and net income up to $793.9 million, or $0.95 per share.  

On a hold-adjusted basis, which normalizes luck that can swing earnings higher or lower in any given quarter, net income rose 19.4% to $711.5 million, or $0.87 per share.

Sands Cotai Central

Growth at Sands Cotai Central (seen here) helped drive Las Vegas Sands in the first quarter. Source: Las Vegas Sands. 

What's driving Las Vegas Sands?
The Venetian Macau and Sands Cotai Central continue to be the growth drivers for Las Vegas Sands, and with $735.3 billion in EBITDA last quarter, up 9.6% from just one quarter earlier, they're performing incredibly well. Sands Cotai Central also has more upside potential as it ramps up operations and margins expand. The positive results also point to strong results for Melco Crown Entertainment (NASDAQ:MPEL), which generates most of its earnings from City of Dreams next to Sands Cotai Central.

Lvs Singapore Sky Park

A top view of Marina Bay Sands, which is struggling more than expected in 2014. Source: Las Vegas Sands

Four Seasons Macau, Sands Macau, and the Las Vegas Properties continue to be positive EBITDA producers, but results can be choppy, particularly at Sands Macau and Las Vegas. Four Seasons is improving steadily; look for it to be a growth driver as Las Vegas Sands completes The Parisian next door.

Singapore is a big drag on earnings
The big disappointment this quarter came from Singapore, where Marina Bay Sands was supposed to be the most profitable resort in the portfolio. But that spot is now owned by The Venetian Macau and Singapore's gaming trends continue to disappoint.

For a long time, investors could point to a hold percentage below the expected 2.7%-3% as a reason results were disappointing, but now it's clear that play is slowing down as well. You can see below that over the past year, the number of VIPs playing in Singapore has dropped off considerably, which has offset a better hold percentage recently.


Q1 2013

Q2 2013

Q3 2013

Q4 2013

Q1 2014

Rolling Chip Volume

$18.21 billion 

$14.37 billion 

$13.79 billion 

$13.73 billion 

$12.94 billion

Rolling Chip Win %






Source: Company earnings reports.

Mass-market table and slot play has also been fairly flat for two years, another sign that Singapore may have reached its max profitability.

It's these struggles in Singapore that are also hurting Las Vegas Sands' stock today. The company owns 100% of the resort there but just 70% of Macau, so Singapore's struggles actually have more impact on long-term value.

What to expect in the future
Cotai will continue to be where Las Vegas Sands gets its growth from, but the growth figures may slow in coming years. The Parisian and resorts from all five of the other concessionaires will open in the next three to four years, diluting Cotai's growth. Las Vegas Sands is primed to take advantage of the Cotai market, but competition will increase.

As for Melco Crown, first-quarter results will likely be similarly good, but look for even more challenges than at Las Vegas Sands long term. Studio City isn't approved for table games and City of Dreams will be diluted just like every other existing Cotai resort.

Las Vegas Sands is still a rock-solid gaming stock, but it's expensive, with an enterprise value of nearly 14 times EBITDA. Melco Crown is even more expensive at 16 times. I'd be cautious buying either stock because competition is coming to Cotai and that will slow growth for both companies long term.

Will this stock be your next ten-bagger?
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Travis Hoium has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. 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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