Vegas

As of late, investing in the gaming industry has seemed as risky as walking up to a roulette table and putting all your cash on red. However, things might be turning around, particularly in Las Vegas.

Big name-dropping
Much has been written about the big name casino operator MGM Resorts International (NYSE:MGM), and with good cause. MGM has had a steady increase in its share price -- up over 95% the past year.  In August, MGM reported a smaller than expected second quarter loss of $0.19, compared to a $0.30 loss in the same quarter last year.

It seems that Caesars Entertainment (NASDAQ:CZR) gets less attention than other big name operators like MGM, Las Vegas Sands, and Wynn Resorts, but it too has had a good run. Its shares have soared a whopping 240% over the past year. Of particular note is that Caesars recently sold its Macau casino, making it the only major casino operator without an interest in the Asian gambling mecca. The good news is that it will use the $438 million gained from that sale to pay down debt, which is this company's biggest problem right now.

The 'little' guy
One smaller name worth noting is Boyd Gaming (NYSE:BYD), operator of 22 casinos in eight states. Boyd's stock has had a very nice run -- up over 105% in the past year. Just six months ago, this was an $8 stock. Now, it is trading around $14. And while this company is already competing well against the big names, it stands to benefit greatly from recently relaxed online gaming regulations, as Nevada, Delaware, and New Jersey have all legalized online gambling for residents and visitors.

Furthermore, Boyd may have the worst in its rear view mirror. In 2006, Boyd began construction on its Echelon property that would have given Boyd a presence on the Las Vegas Strip. The financial crises of 2007-2008 caused construction to halt though, possibly saving the company from bankruptcy. The property than sat unfinished for years and was recently sold to an Asian casino operator for $350 million in cash. 

Revenues inside and outside of gaming
Recently, the MGM Grand was home to the Mayweather-Canelo Alvarez fight, which generated $20 million for MGM in ticket sales, a new boxing record. MGM hotels also hosted the iHeartRadio Music Festival, which sold out in 10 minutes.

Construction has begun on a $100 million project to build a new retail area between MGM's Monte Carlo and New York-New York properties, which is expected to open in early 2014. MGM has also been making major renovations to its properties. Early this year, it completed a $160 million renovation of its MGM Grand, and a $70 million renovation of the Bellagio. It is also renovating and rebranding The Hotel at Mandalay Bay, which will become Delano Las Vegas. All of this will help MGM stay current on the constantly changing Las Vegas Strip.

Caesars is also in the middle of a $550 million project called The Linq. Located next to its Flamingo property, it will feature the High Roller, a 550-foot tall observation wheel that will be the world's tallest Ferris wheel. Due to open next February, the area will feature 300,000 square feet of retail space and will have several restaurants and entertainment venues. Caesars expects the new pedestrian mall to attract about 20 million visitors each year. 

However, all of this comes at a cost, and for Caesars, that comes in the way of debt. Caesars currently owes more than $23 billion , weighed against about $26.5 million in net cash flow last year. While this company has potential, its debt brings investors a lot of risk. Those with a low risk tolerance may want to avoid this one until its debt is under control.

On the other hand, Boyd will use the $350 million from the sale of Echelon to pay down its debt. Boyd likely dodged a large bullet by stopping construction on Echelon when it did and now it's poised to capitalize on Internet gambling, as well as a new in-room gambling system the company rolled out at the Borgata in Atlantic City. And in its first quarter earrings call, CEO Keith Smith stated that Boyd intends to be among the first to offer online gaming in New Jersey. He also stated that Boyd was looking at offering online poker in Nevada, too.

Conclusion
Based on the idea that people will gamble in good and bad times, there was once a feeling that gaming stocks were somewhat recession resistant. The last five years have proven otherwise. It has been a rough road for investors in the gaming industry, but these three companies seem to have weathered the storm with many future opportunities. Gambling stocks are never going to be a sure bet (sorry, that's a horrible pun), but now may be a great time to get on board.

Ryan Lowery owns shares of Boyd Gaming. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. 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.