Fear has finally entered the market again and, as usual, one of the first sectors to take a punch to the gut is gaming. I have yet to see a group of stocks that can be so high when times are good and so low when we're worried about the economy.

But for investors that leads to opportunity if you can buy low and sell high. So where do Macau's best casino companies, Las Vegas Sands (NYSE: LVS), Wynn Resorts (Nasdaq: WYNN) and Melco Crown (Nasdaq: MPEL) stand now?

To answer that lets take a look at one of gaming's favorite valuation methods, enterprise value/property EBITDA. In the chart below I will keep it simple using trailing twelve-month property EBITDA, net debt on each company's balance sheet and the current market cap from Yahoo! Finance. We'll get into adjustments that may make your head spin later.


Property EBITDA (TTM)

Market Cap

Net Debt

EV/Property EBITDA

Las Vegas Sands $2.2 Billion $27.3 Billion $7.1 Billion 15.5
Wynn Resorts $1.2 Billion $14.9 Billion $2.0 Billion 14.5
Melco Crown $430.4 Million $3.7 Billion $1.2 Billion 11.5

So far it looks like Melco Crown is the cheapest competitor, unlike a few months ago when I did a similar analysis, but there are a few things we should consider. Las Vegas Sands' EBITDA number only includes 7 months of operations at Marina Bay Sands, the world's most profitable casino. If we assume a full year, it would have provided $1.25 billion in property EBITDA, and the EV/property EBITDA number falls to 12.1.

Things to think about
To make calculations more straightforward I have not adjusted Las Vegas Sands and Wynn Resorts for the portions of their Macau operations they do not own. Wynn sold 27.7% of it Macau operations and Las Vegas Sands sold 29.7% of its Macau operations and adjustments would make both look slightly more expensive.

There's also the impending opening of Sites 5 & 6, which will effectively reduce cash (to pay for construction) and increase EBITDA at Las Vegas Sands. But most importantly Las Vegas Sands has a slew of warrants still outstanding from the capital raise the company did in 2008. If we use the diluted share count to calculate market cap, that number balloons to $30.4 billion.

Foolish bottom line
With Las Vegas Sands' share price now down to under $37, I am much more comfortable with the valuation versus peers than I was a few months ago. For these three companies I see Melco Crown as the best value, Las Vegas Sands with the most upside potential and Wynn Resorts somewhere in the middle. The only operator in Macau I wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole is MGM Resorts (NYSE: MGM), which has a 17.7 EV/EBITDA ratio and only a small operation in Macau. Which casino company would you buy at today's prices?

Fool contributor Travis Hoium has sold MPEL put options and is biting his nails until Friday's options expiration. You can follow Travis on Twitter at @FlushDrawFool, check out his personal stock holdings or follow his CAPS picks at TMFFlushDraw.

Melco Crown Entertainment is a Motley Fool Global Gains selection. 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.