The past two years have been kind to gaming investors. Most gaming stocks have seen significant gains, especially those with exposure to Macau. But there have been some smart moves that have helped companies improve their standing with shareholders. Here is this Fool's take on the three best moves in gaming over the last two years.

Melco Crown shakes things up
One thing Las Vegas Sands (NYSE: LVS) had going from the start in Macau was efficient operations. Sands' casinos consistently had a high percentage of revenue flowing to the EBITDA line to pay for the expensive casinos it had built. But the much smaller Melco Crown (Nasdaq: MPEL) didn't start quite as strong in Macau.

During its first full year of operations Melco's City of Dreams hotel and casino, its crown jewel on the Cotai Strip, reported EBITDA margins of just 15.6%. That's considerably lower than the 25.6% EBITDAR margins at Las Vegas Sands' Venetian Macau during its first year. So Melco shook things up a bit.

Greg Hawkins, President of City of Dreams, stepped down after the second quarter of 2010 and CFO Simon Dewhurst stepped down in August of last year. When Hawkins left after the second quarter, EBITDA margins had fallen to 13.9% and in just two quarters new management has improved those margins to 20%. Melco hasn't caught up with Las Vegas Sands, but it's on its way and that's one major reason for the stock's success recently.

Penn National finds a steal in M Resort
Gaming in Las Vegas has seen better days, but there's still value in casinos there if you can get them at the right price. Penn National (Nasdaq: PENN) did just that when it purchased the outstanding debt of M Resort for $230.5 million.

The property hasn't been converted to an equity position yet but the company anticipates June of this year for the conversion. The most recent quarter saw the property generate $6.2 million in EBITDA and if we project that number to a full year ($24.8 million) we can estimate Penn paid 9.3 times EBITDA for the property. That's before the company fully implements marketing plans, so I would say Penn played its cards right.

Wynn Resorts gives back
One of the problems with gaming companies can be the constant desire of executives to expand their empire. After conquering Macau, Las Vegas Sands has set its sights on Spain, a head scratcher when you consider how much debt the company already has.

But Steve Wynn has made it known that he plans to return the cash his company makes to shareholders. Wynn Resorts (Nasdaq: WYNN) now pays a $0.50 regular quarterly dividend, and periodically declares a special dividend like the $8.00 per share dividend paid in December of last year.

There's a reason Wynn's stock didn't suffer as much as competitors during the recession. Steve Wynn has his eye on maximizing shareholder value with a keen understanding of the risks involved in gaming.

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