Slow and steady improvement is no longer good enough for regional gaming operators. As Boyd Gaming (NYSE: BYD) found out yesterday, even a slight loss was enough to send shares down almost 10%.

The fix is in
Revenue grew an impressive 10% to $606.7 million, even topping the $595.9 million analysts had expected. The Midwest and South drove most of the improvement, growing revenue 26.1% year over year, almost 100% due to the IP Casino acquisition. The Las Vegas market continued to struggle as the economy there continues to suffer.

Much to investors chagrin, revenue growth didn't translate to bottom-line performance either. Boyd lost $491,000, or a penny per share, in the fourth quarter and $3.9 million for the full year. On an adjusted basis, loss per share was $0.03, greater than the penny loss analysts expected.

Stuck in a rut
Competition around the country is having a negative impact on earnings for all casino operators. Penn National (Nasdaq: PENN) disappointed investors because of anemic growth in the Midwest and Southern Plains. Ameristar Casinos (Nasdaq: ASCA), who focuses in the Midwest, saw just a 0.7% increase in revenue during the fourth quarter and had a 32% drop in net income. The regional players just don't have odds in their favor.

This will also be a slight drag for MGM Resorts (NYSE: MGM) and Caesars Entertainment (Nasdaq: CZR), who run casinos in Louisiana, Mississippi, and other locations around the country. If these casinos aren't growing and adding to MGM and Caesars cash flow, they won't help alleviate their massive debt burdens.

Foolish bottom line
Competition in regional gaming is only getting worse and I don't see a reason to be buying Boyd's weak quarter right now. If online gaming legislation passes the story could change, but for now, I'm staying far away from regional gaming operators.

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Fool contributor Travis Hoium does not have a position in any company mentioned. You can follow Travis on Twitter at @FlushDrawFool, check out his personal stock holdings or follow his CAPS picks at TMFFlushDraw.

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