Las Vegas Sands Is Finally Giving Back

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Las Vegas Sands (NYS: LVS) is starting to live up to its word of deleveraging the company. In the process, it is saving shareholders more than a little cash that should come in handy.

Sheldon Adelson's company announced yesterday that it is exercising its option to redeem outstanding preferred shares that were issued during the company's darkest days.

Why should we care?
Such a buyback wouldn't normally be a big deal, but I've been critical of Adelson in the past for serving himself before shareholders. When the company issued preferred stock and warrants in 2008, he kindly took slightly more than half of the offering, ensuring a big pay day if the company recovered. But not only did he get warrants to buy the stock at $6, he also started getting a preferred stock dividend.

During 2010, a cool $93.4 million was paid out to preferred-stock holders, $52.5 million of which went to Adelson. The preferred buyout will save shareholders more than $76 million each year following the Nov. 15 redemption.  As of February, Adelson had collected some $118 million in preferred dividends since the issuance; he'll soon have his principal of $525 million returned along with a 10% premium for being bought out. It's nice to be able to gamble on a company when you're almost guaranteed to win even if shareholders don't.

By contrast, Steve Wynn is a shareholder-friendly CEO and major shareholder who talks constantly about adding value for owners. Wynn Resorts (NAS: WYNN) had a strong enough balance sheet that it wasn't near the brink of bankruptcy during the financial crisis, like Las Vegas Sands was, and it has since started paying a dividend.

The downside of leverage
Why is deleveraging important? Take a look at how the market reacts to gaming stocks when fear hits investors, as it did today. MGM Resorts (NYS: MGM) is down 9%, Melco Crown (NAS: MPEL) has slid more than 10%, and both Las Vegas Sands and Wynn are down 6%.

Gaming companies live on leverage to expand their businesses, but that leads to risks and wild stock swings when fear hits the market.

Keep the powder dry
I'm not ready to jump into gaming stocks headfirst yet, but when I see enough fear and enough value, I will. Stay tuned to My Watchlist to find out when this Fool takes the leap.

At the time this article was published Fool contributor Travis Hoium does not have a position in any company mentioned. You can follow Travis on Twitter at @FlushDrawFool, check out his personal stock holdings or follow his CAPS picks at TMFFlushDraw.Motley Fool newsletter services formerly recommended Melco Crown Entertainment. 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.

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