What strikes the most fear in the hearts of investors? Perhaps an SEC investigation of one of the stocks they own. A Department of Justice investigation makes the list, too.
Yesterday, Las Vegas Sands (NYSE: LVS ) revealed that both agencies had (metaphorically) sent humorless government drones in dark suits to look into possible corrupt practices in Macau. (Possible corruption in Macau!? I don't believe it!)
This shouldn't come as a huge surprise to those who have followed Las Vegas Sands. Twice, people who allegedly helped the company get its Macau gaming license sued the company, and Macau isn't exactly known as a case study in ethical practices. It is known for back-office business deals and mob ties, so the possibility of a little back-alley transaction or use of "improper leverage" wouldn't be a huge surprise there.
It was a worry about those kinds of deals that forced MGM Resorts (NYSE: MGM ) out of Atlantic City. Gaming officials in New Jersey didn't want anything to do with a company that was associated with gambling kingpin Stanley Ho's daughter Pansy Ho and possible mob ties.
So what does this mean for the future of Las Vegas Sands and Macau in general? All we really know is that this will be a cloud over shares for the foreseeable future. Even a worst-case scenario is hard to define, but most of these cases end in fines. The largest fine in such a case was an $800 million settlement by Siemens in 2008, so the sum could be significant.
Meanwhile, competitors Melco Crown (Nasdaq: MPEL ) and Wynn Resorts (Nasdaq: WYNN ) will sit back and watch while Las Vegas Sands and Stanley Ho's SJM deal with their own internal issues. As I always say: If you can't beat 'em, let them beat themselves.
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