Caesars Entertainment's (NASDAQ:CZR) first-quarter 2014 earnings were not promising. With casino revenue down over 8% compared to the first quarter of 2013 (which also did not compare well with the year before), and total income down over 50% for the quarter as a result, Caesars is not looking like a strong investment. What's the reason that Caesars' earnings are so dismal? No Asian operations. However, a recent "preliminary approval" from the South Korean government may change that.
Currently, the company has no international positions to speak of, while competitors Las Vegas Sands (NYSE:LVS) and Wynn Resorts (NASDAQ:WYNN) have posted huge returns already this year with 21% and 10% year-over-year revenue growth, respectively, thanks to huge wins in Asia.
Caesars missed out on its past Asian opportunities, but is still trying
Caesars failed in its attempt to win a bid in South Korea in 2013, sold its property in Macau later that year, and then failed to drive anything profitable from Uruguay or England (it sold its England property during the first quarter of this year). So the company has been forced to rely on U.S. holdings, which have suffered since the financial crisis of 2008.
CEO Gary Loveman has since said that not entering Macau was the worst mistake the casino ever made. However, the company is now trying again in South Korea. With an initial OK from the South Korean government recently, this may be the start to a comeback if Caesars can begin a profitable international campaign. But can it?
Will Korea be different?
In 2013 Caesars was a leading bidder for a resort in South Korea. Throughout the first half of 2013, the deal seemed confirmed and the government was expected to let Caesars and its Indonesian partner build their casino resort near the capital city of Seoul.
However, in June 2013, the government suddenly declined the bid. Most analysts agree that the government's decision was based on Caesars' high debt load. Now that Caesars has paid down some of that debt, and has recently announced initiatives for further reduction, can the company sway the government this time around?
What could "Preliminary Approval" for a new resort in South Korea mean?
Caesars believes South Korea is a promising market given its proximity to China and Japan. However, the casino would only be for foreigners, since as of now, the government would keep it restricted for local residents (as 16 of South Korea's casinos do, with only one local casino being open to local residents). Caesars was granted "preliminary approval" from the South Korean government to build this proposed $794.7 million casino and hotel just 25 miles from the capital city, Seoul.
"Preliminary approval" certainly does not guarantee a license. The company needs to meet a series of other investment and financial criteria laid forth by the South Korean Ministry of Culture, Sport, and Tourism. Las Vegas Sands had to jump through a series of hurdles to finally get its Singaporean resort built, and this process caused Wynn to completely exit the running based on the challenges of working with the local government. Thus, this "preliminary approval" should be taken with a grain of salt.
Last Foolish thought: Let's see if this casino actually gets built first
This new South Korean "preliminary approval" is a good sign for Caesars. Without any international strategy to speak of, any move toward diversification in Asia is a good move. However, "preliminary approval" doesn't mean winning a license, and investors should keep watching to see if the company can pass through these hurdles before they consider this an investment catalyst.
Las Vegas Sands and Wynn Resorts have already proven to be better bets for Asian expansion. However, for investors who feel that Caesars' stock is currently undervalued (or at least beaten down enough that a change like this could drive up share value), Caesars' move with this South Korean casino is good news.