According to online Asian gambling news source GGRAsia, Las Vegas Sands (NYSE:LVS) is lobbying to open a casino in Thailand. Las Vegas Sands is one of the companies that's been hammered by the decline in gambling revenue in Macau in recent months. So is this potential for a property in Thailand the next best bet for LVS investors?
Thailand looks attractive
Krist Boo, Las Vegas Sands' VP of communications in Singapore, reportedly reiterated in early July that the company will happily invest in Thailand if given the opportunity. That followed multiple reports that LVS representatives are seeking to meet with Thai officials.
Thailand looks especially attractive now for multiple reasons, not least of all that it would provide a destination for wealthy Mainland Chinese travelers who are restricted in how much they can gamble in Macau. But Thailand wouldn't be attractive just for would-be Macau visitors. Thailand already gets nearly 30 million tourists a year from around the world, and its tourism economy continues to grow as it attracts travelers for its beauty, culture, and increasingly ample options for entertainment.
While resorts are rampant, casinos are still officially illegal in the country. Las Vegas Sands could have a lot to gain there with an integrated resort featuring a hotel and a casino to appeal to these travelers -- if the government would allow it.
How likely is this casino?
Las Vegas Sands is eager to continue diversifying in Asia, and Thailand provides one more potential outlet. However, just like other locations around Asia, such as Japan and South Korea, it all depends on whether the local government will allow the company to build an integrated resort.
Las Vegas Sands' integrated resort model in the form of Marina Bay Sands in Singapore has made an impression on Japanese and South Korean legislators for its appeal as a tourist destination and tax-revenue generator. Marina Bay Sands contributes about 1.25% to Singapore's total economy. LVS is likely to try to persuade the Thai government in the same way it has tried to sway the Japanese and South Korean governments, noting the tourist and tax-revenue benefits. Because it has the successful Singapore model to show, getting approved in Thailand looks more likely for LVS than for its competitors.
Still, we've played this waiting game with Japan already. There are various media reports both inside and outside Thailand indicating there are Thai officials both for and against the idea, so it's too early to tell whether this idea has traction in the government or is just media hype. Talk is cheap, and we could spend years waiting for a go-ahead from Thailand with no guarantee it'll ever come.
Thailand isn't a strong bet, but total diversification is
This Thailand potential is interesting, but it's not worth a bet on its own until there's a more solid approval from the Thai government. However, that doesn't mean LVS itself isn't a bet.
Other than Thailand, the company is aggressively pushing for resorts in Vietnam, South Korea, and Japan (should it be legalized there), among other locales. LVS is also the only one of the big U.S.-based casino companies with a resort in Singapore that's done very well. And as LVS continues to push for diversification, it has the best presence in Macau for when the climate there stabilizes (it still looks like a long-term win there). All together, LVS's diversification around Asia is what makes it more attractive than its peers.
Is LVS a buy?
In 2014, Las Vegas Sands blew away its competitors, with net income up 23% year over year, to $2.84 billion, despite a slowing Macau. Compare that with Wynn's $963 million, a 4% income decline in 2014 over 2013, and MGM's net loss of $150 million in 2014.
In addition to its diversified Asian expansion plans and its much better earnings, LVS also has the lowest P/E and highest dividend yield of its peers. With a P/E of just 18, Las Vegas Sands is still less expensive than Wynn at 22 times earnings and the industry average of 26. Its 4.6% dividend yield rate is also well above Wynn's 2%, and MGM doesn't offer a dividend at all. Altogether, Las Vegas Sands continues to look like the best long-term bet in the group.