Market Beat: Betting on gaming stocks

Ken Roberts

According to the Wall Street Journal, gamblers on the island of Macau wager as much in one day as visitors to the Las Vegas strip do in a whole week.

Macau’s gaming revenue rose 19 percent last year to $45.2 billion. Nevada’s casinos have not been doing so well, but the casino stocks have.

Gaming stocks had a very strong performance last year. Las Vegas Sands, a $66 billion company with a 1.7 percent dividend yield, had a return over 50 percent. MGM Resorts is up almost 100 percent over the last 12 months and Wynn Resorts posted a gain of about 68 percent.

Those are some very strong returns and much better than the overall market.

It may come as a surprise to you that Nevada’s casinos have not been making a profit since 2008, when they earned $721 million. The next year in 2009 at the height of the recession they lost about $6.8 billion.

The Nevada Gaming Control recently released its annual report. The state’s biggest casinos on the Las Vegas strip suffered a combined loss of $1.35 billion. The casinos on the South Shore of Lake Tahoe posted a net loss of $90 million.

There was some good news from the Washoe County casinos, which posted a gain of $719,000, which was the first profit for Washoe County gaming in five years — last year the same casinos lost a whopping $44.5 million.

Additionally, last year Eldorado Gaming announced a potential merger with Mountaineer Gaming, a casino with gaming and horse racing operations in several eastern states. The merger has not been finalized yet.

There was more good news in the report, and that was in the revenue numbers — revenues for large casinos statewide grew by 1.1 percent to $10.4 billion.

So, why have these casino stocks performed so well when gaming in Nevada has been lackluster? One reason is of course that gaming has spread across the globe in recent years.

Tribal gaming in California and other states has been very successful and is competing with Nevada’s revenues. Tribal casinos in California have been posting revenues of about $7 billion per year for the last couple of years.

International gaming has also posted some strong results especially from the island of Macau. Japan is forecast to see a rapid rise in gaming.

The major gaming stocks mentioned above all have strong international operations and are a real force in Macau.

Kenneth Roberts is a Truckee-based Registered Investment Advisor. Information on his money management service can be found at his blog at or by calling 775-657-8065. Past performance does not guarantee future results. Consult your financial adviser before purchasing any security.

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