Gaming Update: Where the Chips Are Getting Stacked

Gaming companies continue to put up an index-trouncing performance, with most major operators outpacing the broad market year to date. Here is a quick look at the news that's important in this space today.

A new gaming pocket opens up
With Gov. Deval Patrick opening up Massachusetts to gaming last November, the state has quickly become a hotbed of gaming activity. The decision permits one casino in each of the three designated areas of the state. Wynn Resorts (NAS: WYNN) , however, continues to face local opposition for its proposed development in Foxborough, located in the "A" region. This is the most sought-after region, since it includes Boston and other major population centers. Foxborough is also home to the NFL's New England Patriots and team owner Robert Kraft's $350 million Patriot Place lifestyle center.

But Wynn must earn the hearts of local residents before the gaming commission will review the application for a license. Current opposition cites traffic congestion and the effect on property values as the main concerns. Investors need to tune in on May 7, though, when Foxborough has its local elections. Two of the five seats for the Board of Selectmen are being contested, and the four candidates are split 50/50 on whether they would support the project. Given Wynn's best-of-breed reputation, should those seats go to supportive candidates I think they could win local support.

But Las Vegas-based Caesars Entertainment (NYS: CZR) isn't going to let Wynn stomp around uncontested and intends to submit its own proposal for an "A" region license. The company has a strategic relationship with Boston-based Suffolk Downs, a horse-racing track with local cred. Not only that, but Caesars CEO has roots with MIT, Harvard, and the Boston Fed. These factors surely make local support easier to garner and could provide an edge should both operators make it as far as the commission. MGM Resorts (NYS: MGM) , meanwhile, said to heck with the "A" region arm-wrestle and opted for a location in the "B" region, about 60 miles west of Boston. The company has signed a property deal for a 150-acre parcel in Brimfield.

Viva Las Vegas
After defining the modern-day casino and growing to become the gaming mecca of the world, Las Vegas fell off in the recession. It's been slow to recover, but recover it has. In February, Clark County, Nev., where the Las Vegas Strip is located, recorded a 12% jump in total gaming win over last year. Not only that, but occupancy rates, room rates, and general traffic to the area have also increased steadily in the past few months. However, despite these small but steady wins, the real driving force for the major operators will continue to be Macau.

Amazing Asia
Las Vegas Sands (NYS: LVS) cut the ribbon on its newest location, The Sands Cotai Central, in early April. The casino becomes the company's fourth operation in the region, and with no new casinos coming online there for the next few years, it'll also have the freshest fleet. The flagship Marina Bay Sands in Singapore continues to drive bottom-line growth for the company as a veritable money-printing machine. I expect the casino's strong performance to continue for the foreseeable future.

But with Singapore and Macau red-hot in the gaming world, other Asian nations are clamoring for a piece of the action. Vietnam, the Philippines, South Korea, and Japan have all been discussed as favorable regions. MGM is planning a 541-room location in Ho Tram, and Pinnacle Entertainment (NYS: PNK) is eying a similar-sized operation 80 miles south of Ho Chi Minh City. Given the success in Macau, I expect that competition in the rest of Asia will be more fierce than ever, and will include some eager local parties as well.

Foolish roundup
Las Vegas Sands continues to impress me with its international track record. Sheldon Adelson isn't showing any signs of slowing down and is even throwing down the gauntlet in maligned Europe with his $22 billion proposal for Euro-Vegas in Spain. Despite pricey multiples, I like its aggressive growth strategy and don't see any reason to expect a slowdown just yet. That's why I recommended it as a top stock for 2012. But, of course, there are other options out there. I invite you to learn about one emerging-market company our chief investment office picked as The Motley Fool's Top Stock for 2012. You can read his top pick today, totally free.

At the time thisarticle was published Austin Smith owns no shares of the companies mentioned here. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.
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