Melco Crown (NASDAQ:MLCO) is one of the most profitable gaming companies in the world, and yet, of the major global gaming companies, it's the one without any Las Vegas presence. U.S.-headquartered companies Las Vegas Sands (NYSE:LVS), Wynn Resorts (NASDAQ:WYNN), and MGM Resorts (NYSE:MGM) have all benefited from growth in Asia over the last few years and hope to continue to do so, but each still has major Las Vegas resorts as well. As Las Vegas starts to pick up revenues again, U.S. companies continue to be hopeful about their prospects there, and one of the biggest Asian competitors to the four companies listed above is even building a megaresort in Las Vegas.
Hong Kong's Melco Crown has proven a fierce competitor for these U.S. gaming companies in Macau, but it is not planning to bet on Las Vegas. Instead, Melco Crown is betting against Las Vegas by developing its international locations in more places that other companies are not even trying for yet.
Is Las Vegas back?
Las Vegas' total gaming revenues, following years of steady growth, were suddenly marred by the 2008 financial crisis. Now, the gaming economy in the city has slowly started to pick up and is getting close to reaching 2007 highs. According to the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, the Las Vegas Strip is performing better than the rest of the state during the first half of 2014, with revenues up 3.4% over the same period in the year prior, but with extreme monthly variations. Las Vegas' downtown is not performing as well at 1.8% growth YOY, but that is still an improvement.
MGM Resorts and Wynn Resorts are two gaming companies that showed a benefit from the recovering Las Vegas gaming economy as each company posted Q2 results with higher than expected Las Vegas revenues. The same UNLV research group as above notes that international VIP players are one major growth driver of Las Vegas' current uptrend. While MGM Resorts and Wynn Resorts are excited about what could be the return of Las Vegas, they are not the only ones. With things looking up for Las Vegas, one large Asian company -- Genting -- thinks that its new Las Vegas strip resort will be a good bet.
This Asian company places an enormous bet on the Vegas strip
Malaysia's Genting, owner of Resorts World casino around the world, which is also the sole competitor to Las Vegas Sands in Singapore, is the next major developer making a huge bet on Las Vegas' resurgence. Its newest planned Resorts World resort on the Vegas strip, across the street from a Wynn resort, looks like it will wow the city with an impressive Asian themed casino resort.
Construction of the $4 billion multiphase project is slated to begin this year with predictions it could open in 2017. This could mean hardship for those U.S. gaming companies making their bets on Las Vegas' come back. A senior director at Fitch Ratings said in a report last year that the added lodging capacity of Resorts World could be burden on the growth of competitors due to more supply for the struggling-to-climb demand.
Plans are for the Genting resort to include 3,000 hotel rooms, a casino with a combined 3,500 slot machines and table games, a rooftop sky park and observation deck atop a 674-foot-tall tower, a replica of the Great Wall of China, exhibits of terra-cotta warriors, a 50,000-square-foot, 58-foot-tall aquarium with exotic fish, and even live pandas.
But Melco Crown is betting outside Vegas
Let's look at Melco's interests in four areas outside Las Vegas.
Macau revenue growth continues to surge forward, even with lowered growth this year over last year. While 2014 has so far provided much less profit growth for Macau gaming compared to 2013, each major casino is building new resorts in Macau that are planned to be completed in 2015 and 2016. Melco Crown's Studio City casino will likely be the first to open. This integrated resort on the Cotai strip will boast 500 gaming tables, more than 1,500 slot machines, a five-star hotel, shopping mall, and more. Analysts have said that Studio City will be the "best situated" resort on the Cotai strip as it will be directly adjacent to the Lotus Bridge that connects the strip to mainland China via Hengqin Island, and is on a proposed stop for the coming intercity light rail.
Studio City, even though it will probably be the first to open, will not be alone by the end of next year. Las Vegas Sands with its coming Parisian Macao, which is slated to open in 2015 as well, will be the biggest of the new resorts with over 3,000 hotel rooms and suites, around 450 table games, 2,500 slots, a retail mall, and a replica of the Eiffel Tower at 50% scale. Wynn's and MGM's coming resorts are expected to open by the end of 2015 or in 2016. Together, these four new megaresorts are bound to increase Macau's overall gaming revenue, though competition for profits will be fierce. Luckily for Melco Crown, Macau is not its only bet.
2. The Philippines
Macau is not home to Melco Crown's only resort in Southeast Asia anymore. The company has already started opening parts of its City of Dreams Manila resort, with a full opening scheduled for sometime later this year. This $1.3 billion investment in Manila's new 'Entertainment City' tourist-oriented district will create a resort very similar to the company's City of Dreams Macau. The Philippines will be another bet on a developing region within Asia, much like Macau, which the company hopes will bring huge populations of mass-market gamers with easy access to traveling gamers from Japan and South Korea.
Macau and Manila are both pretty safe bets on expanding Southeast Asian gaming, but this Russia development is further outside of the norm. Melco Crown is expanding its footprint with investment in East Russia. The company is partial owner in a consortium that is building a new casino in Vladivostok, Russia, and recent media reports have claimed that Melco Crown is raising its stake to 85%. This small hub in eastern Russia is close to many potential north-Chinese gamers, a market that Melco Crown is hoping to tap.
While Melco Crown won't have much competition in Manila or Russia yet, its hopes for Japan will have major competition from all major gaming companies. That's because analysts have estimated that Japan's gaming industry could be worth as much as $40 billion a year. However, for that to happen, Japan legislators would have to legalize gaming in the country. With talks started during this past summer legislative session, pro-gaming government officials are seeking to pass the bill in the fall session coming up in the coming weeks. If the bill is passed, Melco Crown is one company that is already an analyst favorite that could likely win a bid to build a casino there.
Foolish final bet
"The comeback of Las Vegas" is certainly a good sign for gaming investors, and especially those interested in MGM and Wynn, which have proved so far this year to be gaining on Las Vegas' recovery. However, competition for profits there is still intense and the added Resorts World Las Vegas casino is only going to make that competition more intense.
For Melco Crown, a bet against Vegas by betting on more unique locations sets it apart in the industry. Whether it's in Macau and Japan, where other companies are also interested, or in Manila and Russia, where it has much less competition, Melco Crown's unique diversification is one reason to keep an eye on this innovative gaming company.