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The Logic of MGM-Mandalay

By Jeff Hwang - Updated Nov 16, 2016 at 5:02PM

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The deal is about Las Vegas, but the benefits may come from beyond.

Last week's $7.9-billion merger agreement between MGM Mirage (NYSE:MGG) and Mandalay Resort Group (NYSE:MBG) to create the world's premiere resort casino operator is all about Las Vegas. At the same time, it also makes sense on a level greater than that.

Gaming is a trend -- not a fad -- and Las Vegas is the Mecca. Widespread growth in both riverboat and Native American-owned casinos has created new generations of gamblers, an increasing number of whom make the trek to world's gaming and adult entertainment capital on a regular basis. That, along with a wave in gambling- and Vegas-centric shows -- including Lakes Entertainment's (NASDAQ:LACO) World Poker Tour, the World Series of Poker on Disney's ESPN (NYSE:DIS), "Las Vegas" on General Electric's (NYSE:GE) NBC, and "CSI" on Viacom's (NYSE:VIA) CBS -- has made Las Vegas hotter than ever.

And through rewards programs, geographically diverse casino operators have begun to leverage the power of Las Vegas well.

Harrah's Entertainment (NYSE:HET) is a perfect example. It is the most geographically diverse among casino operators, with riverboat casinos in Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Mississippi, Iowa, and Louisiana, on top of its presence in Atlantic City and properties around Nevada. Its player-tracking system is the envy of the industry, but here's the key: Via its Total Rewards program, Harrah's has been able to scoot gamblers from around the country to its two properties in Las Vegas by offering loyal Harrah's patrons things such as discounted room rates and comps.

Such cross-market play jumped 23% company-wide last quarter, sparking an impressive 13.3% increase in revenues and a 45.7% gain in operating income at Harrah's Southern Nevada properties last quarter. However, Harrah's is merely able to offer its two sub-premium properties in Harrah's Las Vegas and the once-powerful Rio off-Strip.

On the other hand, the new MGM Mirage will have substantially more drawing power to Las Vegas. From Bellagio to the red-hot Mandalay Bay, MGM Mirage hits the broad range of premium thrill seekers from the more mature to the young and hip. And its properties now span the meat of the Strip, from the Treasure Island at center Strip (across from The Venetian) all the way to the south at Mandalay Bay.

It doesn't stop there, either. Wynn Resorts' (NASDAQ:WYNN) will spawn a new wave of renovation and construction to the north of The Venetian when it opens the multibillion-dollar Wynn Las Vegas next April. Boyd Gaming (NYSE:BYD) is drawing up new plans for the plot of land where its Stardust property currently sits, at which point Mandalay's Circus Circus may represent an attractive property for MGM Mirage to knock down and reconstruct.

And all of this only makes MGM and Mandaly's properties outside of Nevada more valuable to Las Vegas. Aside from Detroit, where either MGM or Mandalay will be forced to sell a property due to local gaming restrictions, there is no overlap between the two premium operators. Mandalay's 50%-owned Grand Victoria is the market leader in the $2 billion Chicagoland market, and its Gold Strike combines with Harrah's soon-to-be-acquired Horseshoe property to control the most valuable cluster in the Tunica, Miss. market.

MGM Mirage also owns the Beau Rivage along the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, and half of the new Borgata in Atlantic City.

Sure, MGM Mirage will pile on debt to make the acquisition. However, any comparison to Trump Casinos and Hotels (NYSE:DJT) is far too simplistic. Whether MGM shareholders will see much of a gain on investment is another question. But the world's leading hotel and casino operators generate loads of cash, and MGM has done this before. That said, Las Vegas is hot, and further benefits of a new MGM Mirage may come from gamblers from beyond.

Give us your take on the Vegas, Baby, Vegas! and MGM Mirage discussion board.

Fool contributor Jeff Hwang owns shares of Lakes Entertainment.

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.

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Stocks Mentioned

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