Asian Gaming Update

The world of gaming has been quiet lately as companies prepare to release their fourth-quarter earnings reports. But there have been a few nuggets of information that investors should keep in mind while listening to gaming conference calls.

Sands China dividend
Sands China, the majority owned subsidiary of Las Vegas Sands (NYS: LVS) , announced it will pay its first dividend on Feb. 28. The company has enough funds to complete Sands Cotai Central and is now shifting from expansion mode to payback mode.

For Las Vegas Sands this will mean a slight reduction in the overall balance sheet since the parent company doesn't own the entire subsidiary. But the action could begin to allow Las Vegas Sands to reduce debt in the U.S., where earnings haven't been nearly as strong.

Market share may swing in Macau
There has been unease in the market about where Melco Crown (NAS: MPEL) will begin 2012 in terms of market share. Victor Yip, an analyst with UOB Kay Hian Ltd., said the company is expected to lose 2% of market share, from 14% to 12%, in January.

If that's the case, it will be a huge loss for Melco Crown. But who will it help? Las Vegas Sands, Wynn Resorts (NAS: WYNN) , and MGM Resorts (NYS: MGM) have expanded junket play to keep up with the business Melco took during 2011. These three should all benefit if Melco is now dealt a bad hand and has seen customers leave for other resorts.

Asian gaming expansion
Universal Entertainment Corporation is looking for a gaming partner for its $2 billion complex in the Philippines, just one of many expansions that may take place in Asia. Melco Crown has expressed interest in the project, but has yet to commit to anything.

With gaming companies reducing leverage by the day in Macau, it's only natural to wonder where expansion will head next. Macau has limited opportunities, so companies have turned their attention to Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, and other countries for potential growth. The Philippines is a logical option, especially for Melco, which has a strong balance sheet and the ability to expand into new markets.

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