A Brief History of the Gaming Industry


On this day in economic and financial history...

The rich silver mines of Nevada withered as the Great Depression dragged on, leaving the desert state in dire straits as its people picked up and moved in search of elusive opportunities. The Nevada legislature, in a desperate bid to attract fresh capital to its sparsely populated state, finally legalized gambling on March 19, 1931. It was a decision that would have a lasting impact on the state's character and composition and that continues to affect the global gaming industry to this day.

Within two months, the Meadows Club casino (appropriately named, as "Las Vegas" is Spanish for "the meadows") opened in Las Vegas. It caught fire and was gone from Vegas by 1942, by which point the city's famous Strip was taking shape with the construction of the Last Frontier and El Rancho Vegas. After the war, a growing American middle class helped give rise to a number of Vegas gaming icons, including the Sands (opened in 1952 and since replaced by the Venetian Sands flagship casino of Las Vegas Sands after its acquisition by a Sheldon Adelson-led investment group), the Desert Inn (opened in 1950 and the site of Wynn Resorts' flagship casino since 2005), and the Riviera (opened in 1955 and still in operation).

MGM Resorts' Mirage, which cost more than $600 million to build and which was financed by Wall Street junk bonds at the height of the Drexel Burnham Lambert era, ushered in the era of the modern megacasino when it was completed in 1989. This 100,000 square-foot, 3,000-plus room edifice pushed other casino operators to demolish old landmarks to make way for properly competitive megacasinos of their own. Total room inventory in Las Vegas has more than doubled since the Mirage's completion to nearly 150,000 rooms as of 2009. That year, despite a deep recession, more than 36 million people visited the Las Vegas region to spend nearly $9 billion on gaming activities -- a rate of just more than $240 per person.

Five years after the crash began, Nevada has still not recovered its to pre-recession levels. From 2007 to 2012, the total statewide room inventory increased from 178,000 rooms to 195,000 rooms, but total visitor volume dropped by 5%, airport traffic declined by 13%, and both gross gaming revenue and the average daily rate per person dropped by more than 15%. However, the Las Vegas-based gambling industry had long since expanded internationally, particularly to Macau, which generated a collective $38 billion in gaming revenue across 35 casinos in 2012 versus Nevada's roughly $11 billion in gaming revenue -- much of which comes from more than 100 casinos in Las Vegas alone.

For many companies, successfully capitalizing on a booming Chinese economy is like winning the jackpot. That's indeed the case for gaming company Las Vegas Sands, which made a big bet on Macau gaming about a decade ago that has paid off in spades. The company is now looking to spread its empire further, but will it be able to replicate its prior successes? Learn about all these opportunities and the risks they pose in our brand-new premium report on Las Vegas Sands. Be sure to claim your copy today by clicking here.

This is a stickup
The first recorded bank robbery in U.S. history was a doozy. On March 19, 1831, Edward Smith took $245,000 from the City Bank of New York -- predecessor to Citigroup-- a fairly colossal heist that would be worth more than $5 million today. This hardly stopped the City Bank, which grew into one of the largest banks in the United States after the close of the Civil War. Edward Smith didn't do quite as well. After spending $60,000 of the haul, he was caught and sentenced to be jailed in New York's infamous Sing Sing maximum-security prison, where he was hanged for his crimes in 1866. Many years later, the average haul from bank robberies had shrunk to merely $5,000 per heist, but roughly 10,000 such crimes occurred each year around the turn of the 21st century.

We're No. 2! We're No. 2!
Perennial third-place burger chain Wendy's finally overcame struggling Burger King Worldwide for the No. 2 spot in the U.S. burger wars in 2011, according to data first released on March 19, 2012. It was the first time since at least 1972 that Burger King was not the second-largest chain in the country, and Wendy's accomplished the feat with roughly 1,400 fewer locations, earning $8.5 billion at 5,900 locations to Burger King's $8.4 billion in U.S. earnings at 7,200 locations.

However, neither company could come close to McDonald's, which earned more than $34 billion at more than 14,000 U.S. locations, dwarfing both of its largest competitors combined. Small wonder that McDonald's has been the best long-term restaurant investment and is the only restaurateur ever to earn a place on the Dow Jones Industrial Average . However, this wasn't always the case: Wendy's was a superior investment to McDonald's for nearly all of the period following the latter's addition to the Dow in 1985. It was only after the financial-crisis crash that McDonald's took the lead. Wendy's had posted a 5,000% total gain from 1985 to the eve of the crash, but it plunged to a total gain just shy of 1,300% by the time it reportedly overtook Burger King. McDonald's soared in the meantime, approaching 3,700% gains from 1985 to the time its competitors swapped places. How long is your investment horizon?

Copper is a golden business
Freeport McMoRan completed its acquisition of rival miner Phelps Dodge on March 19, 2007, creating the world's largest publicly traded copper-mining company. The $25.9 billion buyout arrived at a time of heightened copper prices and was somewhat unexpected, as Freeport was the much smaller company at the time. The two companies would combine for annual production of 1.9 million tons of copper, 1.8 million ounces of gold, and 69 million pounds of molybdenum (a key component of the steelmaking process) as of 2006.

Since the acquisition, Freeport has held up well through a recession that significantly (but temporarily) eroded copper prices. It has suffered production volume declines since the acquisition: In 2012, Freeport produced roughly 1.5 million tons of copper, 860,000 ounces of gold, and 81 million pounds of molybdenum. However, thanks to the growth of copper and gold prices in the years following the acquisition, Freeport is still quite profitable, having finished 2012 with a nearly 17% net margin.

After putting together a blockbuster deal to expand into the oil and natural-gas industry, Freeport-McMoRan will have plenty on its plate as it tries to adapt to the new industry, as expanding into oil and gas carries plenty of inherent volatility. FCX had a profitable copper business, and on top of this foray into a new industry it still has to contend with mining-industry bellwether BHP Billiton. To help investors determine whether Freeport-McMoRan is a buy or a sell, The Motley Fool has compiled a premium research report on the company. Simply click here now to access your copy today.

The article A Brief History of the Gaming Industry originally appeared on Fool.com.

Fool contributor Alex Planes has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Burger King Worldwide and McDonald's. The Motley Fool owns shares of Citigroup, Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold, and McDonald's. 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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