2020 has been the most tumultuous year that Las Vegas Sands (NYSE:LVS) has seen, and one of the most volatile years in the history of the entire sector. The company's operations in Macao were shut down as early as February, and Las Vegas followed in March. 

It's not a surprise that Las Vegas Sands' stock is down, but shares have only fallen 17.8%, helped by a market that's hoping for a quick recovery from the pandemic. Is it time to jump back into this gambling stock? Let's look at where Las Vegas Sands sits today. 

What Las Vegas Sands was

Before we get to the impact of COVID-19 on Las Vegas Sands in 2020, let's cover what the company's operations looked like at the end of 2019. Revenue for the year was $13.7 million, EBITDA was $5.4 billion, and the company had paid $3.08 per share in dividends. EBITDA is particularly important, because it's the best measure of business success for resorts and casinos that have high upfront costs and then generate cash flow for decades. 

LVS Revenue (TTM) Chart

LVS Revenue (TTM) data by YCharts

You can see that operations were going well and generating billions in cash flow. In fact, the company was generating so much cash that it continued to increase dividends paid, and bought back 40 million shares of stock. But 2020 threw the business for a loop. 

What Las Vegas Sands is today

By February, China and Macao had started shutting down travel and casinos, causing revenue in the world's largest gambling market to drop by over 90% for most of the year. Soon, U.S. casinos were shut down as well -- and you can see that revenue and EBITDA plunged until the dividend was eventually suspended. 

LVS Revenue (Quarterly) Chart

LVS Revenue (Quarterly) data by YCharts

There's no denying that operations have been terrible this year, and that the cause has been COVID-19, which was out of Las Vegas Sands' control. But investors looking at the stock should be considering what the company will look like in 2021 and beyond -- and that's where I see more to be bullish about. 

In Singapore, revenue was down 64.6% in the third quarter -- but in a sign of just how profitable that resort is, Marina Bay Sands still generated $70 million in property EBITDA. Since it's a trading hub, if travel picks up again, this will be a highly profitable resort once again.

Evidence of a recovery

Now that a COVID-19 vaccine is officially being approved around the world, it's time to start thinking about what a recovery will look like, whether that's three months away or a year from now. In Las Vegas we saw that gamblers have come back relatively quickly: When casinos reopened in June, Las Vegas Strip revenue was down 61% from a year earlier; by October, however, gambling revenue was down just 30%. And that's before any significant convention business comes back, which normally drives weekday utilization.

In Macao the recovery will be slower, because some governments are more cautious in their response to COVID-19. Macao's gambling revenue has been coming back, though, climbing from a 97% decline at the low point in June to a loss of 70.5% in November. If a vaccine is widely distributed by mid-2021, there's no reason to think gambling won't recover to pre-pandemic levels.

Is Las Vegas Sands a buy? 

Shares of Las Vegas Sands are down 17.8% in 2020, and I think if there's a full recovery of operations around the world this could be a great time to buy shares at a discount. 

I think the second half of 2021 is going to be incredibly good for travel and entertainment businesses as consumers and businesses make up for what they've given up over the past year. Las Vegas Sands will be one of the biggest beneficiaries, and that could mean a recovery in both the stock price and the dividend -- making this a strong dividend stock for long-term investors willing to look past the pandemic. 

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.