Times have really changed for Las Vegas Sands (NYSE: LVS) since being near bankruptcy a year and a half ago. At the time it was forced into a frantic equity offering and the stock sank below $2.00 as investors lost faith in the casino giant. Now, instead of being desperate for cash it's paying back more than $1 billion of debt and reducing leverage.

Deleveraging, especially in the U.S., has been the long-term strategy for Las Vegas Sands since early in 2009 when it nearly broke U.S. debt covenants. As Macau strengthens and Marina Bay Sands opens in Singapore, the company is using this time to reduce leverage in a struggling U.S. market.

Lower debt is great, but just as important for its U.S. operations is the relaxing of debt covenants in years to come. With Las Vegas in general still struggling, this was an important provision in any U.S. debt restructuring. But as you might expect, there was a cost to gain flexibility. Interest rates on remaining U.S. debt are going up 0.75% to 1% depending on the loan. I think this is a small price to pay for the freedom the company gets in exchange.

This deleveraging step doesn't bring Las Vegas Sands up to the financial health of Wynn Resorts (Nasdaq: WYNN), which arguably has the best balance sheet in the industry. Considering the risk tolerance Sands' CEO Sheldon Adelson has shown compared to Steve Wynn, I wouldn't expect the company to ever be at Wynn's strength, but at least this is a step in the right direction. The other big casino operator MGM Resorts (NYSE: MGM) is trying to follow suit, reducing leverage, but weak operations and little Asian exposure give it less room to pull that strategy off.

This is no doubt a positive for Las Vegas Sands' operations. The stock may still be overheated, but a pullback could be a buying opportunity, considering the effort to lower risk and the company's upside.

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Fool contributor Travis Hoium is long Las Vegas Sands. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.