When Las Vegas Sands (NYSE: LVS) recently announced fourth-quarter results, the company stated it will begin paying annual dividends of $1.00 per share. The dividend is a result of strong cash flow, liquidity, and a solid financial position. How did the company improve these metrics?

For the fourth quarter, Las Vegas Sands reported record growth in Macao property EBITDA, which increased by 27.2%, as well as an adjusted property EBITDA increase of 39.6% at Marina Bay Sands. Year over year, the company also set new record highs for net revenue of $9.41 billion and adjusted property EBITDA of $3.53 billion.

Sands shareholders will receive $0.25 per share ever quarter, with the first payment on March 30, 2012 (for shareholders of record on March 20). Las Vegas Sands will now join Wynn Resorts (Nasdaq: WYNN) as the only two major casino operators that currently pay dividends. Both companies will have roughly the same yield -- around 1.8%.

In the past, other casino operators have paid shareholders, but no longer do. MGM Resorts (NYSE: MGM) has paid a dividend twice, once in February of 2000 for $0.025, and again the same time the following year for $0.05 per share. Boyd Gaming (NYSE: BYD) also paid a dividend on a quarterly basis from 2003 till mid-2008, when it canceled it. Similar to Boyd in size and domestic concentration, Penn National has never paid a dividend. Foreign heavyweight Melco Crown (Nasdaq: MPEL) has also never given back to shareholders, despite returning 62% over the last 12 months.

Wynn, Las Vegas Sands, and Melco Crown all boast debt-to cash-ratios of 3-to-1 or lower, which may spark Melco to follow Sands' lead in respects to paying a dividend. Looking at this metric for MGM, Boyd, and Penn national -- which have 6.8-1, 18-1, and 9.8-1 ratios, respectively -- it is easy to see they need to concentrate on lowering debt before giving back to shareholders.   

Foolish take
In my opinion Las Vegas Sands is now a grade-A stock: It has solid and very reliable growth, great management, and now a dividend. Although Sands didn't make the list of 11 rock-solid dividend-paying companies in the past, maybe now it will. Check out who did make the list by clicking here.