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Wynn Resorts

(WYNN) - Get Report


Penn National Gaming

(PENN) - Get Report

set the bar high when they kicked off earnings season for the casino sector this week.

The first-quarter results from the two players showed the strength of international gaming, as well as a recovery domestically.

Wynn reported a nearly six-fold surge in its profit, boosted by its Macau casinos. Overall, Wynn Resorts earned $173.8 million, or $1.39 a share, compared with $27 million, or 22 cents, in the year-ago period. Analysts were calling for a much smaller profit of 73 cents a share.

Revenue jumped 39% to $1.26 billion, also better than Wall Street's estimates of $1.15 billion.

In Macau, profit jumped 66% to $189.7 million, from $114.3 million, while revenue grew 47% on strong growth at VIP tables and slot machines. These results were boosted by the opening of Encore Macau in April 2010. Revenues from the resort were not included in 2010 results.

Las Vegas also showed steps toward a turnaround, with Wynn's revenue in Sin City rising 24%, as the company got luckier than expected in table games.

Penn National's first-quarter topped expectations, and the regional casino operator issued second-quarter and full-year outlooks above consensus estimates.

For the three-month period the company earned $178 million, or 48 cents a share, above analysts' outlook of 41 cents.

Revenue rose nearly 13% to $667 million, better than the $664.4 million Wall Street forecast.

Looking ahead, Penn foresees second-quarter earnings of 47 cents a share, compared with the 41 cents from analysts. For the full-year it is calling for a profit of $1.64 a share, also better than estimates of $1.53.

"We think Penn's solid first-quarter results speak to the rational promotional and comping environment across most regional gaming markets, allowing for the regional casinos to generate stronger profitability and improved EBITDA margins," J.P. Morgan analyst Joseph Greff, wrote in a note.

Now the question is, will rival casino giants be able to post the same winnings?

Click on for a company-by-company look at how the rest of the sector is expected to fair when it reports earnings over the next several weeks....

Las Vegas Sands

Las Vegas Sands

(LVS) - Get Report

stock has been pressured following news that it is being investigated by federal regulators both domestically and in China regarding potentially illegal business practices in Macau.

Shares of the casino giant have fallen more than 8% since it reported its fourth-quarter results in February.

Sands China issued a statement earlier in the year saying it is being probed by Hong Kong Securities and Futures Commission for alleged breaches of regulation. Government officials in China "requested to produce certain documents."

The company also received a subpoena from the Securities and Exchange Commission requesting the company provide compliance documents related to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Las Vegas Sands has also noted that it is the subject of an investigation by the Department of Justice.

The allegations stem from claims made by former Sands China CEO Steve Jacobs regarding the bribing of officials. Las Vegas Sands has publicly denied these allegations. Jacobs has claimed that he was fired from the company in July 2010 without cause after refusing to carry out demands made by Las Vegas Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson.

Nonetheless, Las Vegas Sands should continue to benefit from strength in Macau and Singapore.

Santarelli predicts that the company is poised to post another solid quarter of year-over-year property level EBITDA growth at each of its properties in Macau.

The opening of Galaxy Cotai in May is also not expected to meaningfully upset Las Vegas Sands long-term growth story in Macau, according to Santarelli.

"With April off to a fast start in Macau and recent color from Wynn management on the strength it is seeing in both Macau and Las Vegas, we believe second-quarter expectations are likely to, or already have, elevated," Santarelli wrote. "That said, we remind investors that Las Vegas Sands will face tough Macau comparisons."

In Singapore, the focus will largely be on sequential improvement in VIP rolling chip volume at its Marina Bay Sands flagship.

In Las Vegas, investors will be watching margins, given continued sluggishness of the Strip, Santarelli noted.

The only potential snag in Las Vegas Sands' story would be the appearance of any new punitive headlines related to the ongoing investigation.

MGM Resorts

MGM Resorts

(MGM) - Get Report

made headlines last week when it announced it will take control of its Macau joint venture, a move that could ultimately pad its Hong Kong initial public offering.

The casino operator founded by billionaire Kirk Kerkorian said that partner Pansy Ho will sell as much as 23% of MGM China Holdings in an initial public offering and another 1% to MGM Resorts. This sale would boost MGM's stake in the company to 51%.

The move would leave Ho with a 29% stake, while a 20% stake would go to the public.

Pansy Ho, daughter of Chinese casino mogul Stanley Ho, would also purchase $300 million of MGM Resorts' convertible senior notes due 2015.

Gaining control would give MGM the opportunity to consolidate its Macau operations on its books.

"Most importantly ... we believe investors will be pleased with the new structure, given MGM has increased, rather than diluted, its ownership of the fastest growing asset in its portfolio," Santarelli wrote in a note following the announcement. "The ability to consolidate the MGM China results could potentially unlock some equity value given the pro forma improvement in total leverage ratios of the company."

When MGM reports its first-quarter results on May 4, any updates on its initial public offering of its Macau assets on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange will surely be of interest.

The company has not announced a date for the IPO, but reports have surfaced that it could happen as soon as May and could raise about $1 billion.

Investors will also be awaiting any updates on MGM's plan to build another property in Macau's Cotai area. The company is currently waiting for land rights from government officials.

For the quarter, Wall Street is expecting a loss of 19 cents a share on revenue of $1.51 billion.

Melco Crown Entertainment

Melco Crown Entertainment's


stock has surged more than 46% since February, leaving Wall Street wondering if any upside in the first-quarter is already factored into the stock.

The Macau-based casino operator is piggybacking off strong Macau trends in March, but Santarelli believes current stock levels reflect a significant first-quarter beat and he is predicting only modest upside.

"While Melco was able to grow gross gaming revenue and rolling chip volume at City of Dreams, VIP hold is likely to come in below, and potentially well below, the theoretical level," he wrote in a note. "We believe the below-theoretical hold could pressure property-level EBITDA margin, and, as such, gaming revenue flow-through to EBITDA could disappoint."

Melco is scheduled to report its results on April 25, and Wall Street is predicting a profit of 5 cents a share on revenue of $807.6 million.

"Despite our view that first-quarter results could take some wind out of the Melco sail, we do not view current levels as an attractive short opportunity. Melco still remains a relatively inexpensive way to play the strength in Macau," Santarelli wrote.

Melco is poised for upward estimates revisions based on the recently added junkets having provided a boost in rolling chip volume at City of Dreams, and it also possesses some balance sheet flexibility, which could provide future value to equity holders, Santarelli said.

Bank of America/Merrill Lynch upgraded the stock last week to buy from neutral, citing Melco's discount to its peers.

Analyst Billy Ng estimates that City of Dreams could post 31% revenue growth this year and raised his price target on the stock to $11.10 from $8.

Boyd Gaming

The sentiment on Boyd Gaming remains muted as its two major markets -- Las Vegas locals and Atlantic City -- continue to struggle.

In February, Nevada gaming revenue dropped 6.8% to $881.8 million. Clark County, which includes downtown Las Vegas as well as the Strip, fell 7% to $769.5 million. The locals market, which is defined as North Las Vegas, Boulder Strip and Balance of Country line, was flat, but the Boulder Strip dropped 5.2% year-over-year.

"That is important for Boyd as its largest locals casino is included in that number," ITG Investment Research analyst, Matthew Jacob, wrote in a note. "Our research has indicated declines at Boyd's Las Vegas locals properties, which we believe will lead to downside versus Street revenue expectations in the first quarter."

In Atlantic City, where Boyd co-owns the Borgata with MGM Resorts, gaming revenue in March slipped 6.7% to $280.5 million. This marked the 31st consecutive month of gross gaming revenue declined in the New Jersey gambling hub.

Boyd is slated to report its first-quarter results on May 3. Wall Street predicts a profit of a penny on revenue of $569.4 million.

Ameristar Casinos

Ameristar Casinos


should benefit from the stabilization of overall regional gaming revenue.

Greff foresees regional gaming revenue growing in the low-to-mid-single digit range in 2011 and strengthening in 2010.

Nonetheless, he lowered his first-quarter revenue and EBITDA estimates for Ameristar, citing softer-than-expected results at St. Charles and East Chicago. His revised estimates also take into account lackluster January gross gaming revenue, which was hampered by inclement weather across most of Ameristar's jurisdictions, as well as sluggish February results. Greff does not believe this weakness can be fully offset by strength in March.

"We continue to maintain our neutral rating as we believe the stock will remain range bound in the near-to-mid term," he wrote in a note. "While we believe upside in shares is limited given the lack of long-term growth drivers, we think shares have reached a bottom and have support near these levels given Ameristar's free cash flow yield."

But Ameristar was upgraded on Wednesday by Morgan Joseph to buy from hold.

The regional casino operator is scheduled to report its first-quarter results on May 4, and analysts are expecting a profit of 29 cents a share on revenue of $305.3 million.

Pinnacle Entertainment

Pinnacle Entertainment

(PNK) - Get Report

is a buy following Penn National Gaming's strong first-quarter results and impressive outlook, according to analysts.

"We believe Penn's guidance speaks to the comfort level management has in the recovering domestic gaming patron in 2011 and the ability to expand margins without assuming considerable boosts in patron spend," Santarelli wrote in a note. "We would be buyers of Pinnacle for this reason as well."

In March, Pinnacle announced the resignation of its Chief Financial Officer Stephen Capp, who left the company to pursue new opportunities. Capp was replaced by Carlos Ruisanchez, Pinnacle's executive vice president of strategic planning and development.

"While losing a solid member of a management team is never a positive, we do not believe Mr. Capp's resignation was driven by internal strife, but more a desire to pursue new opportunities after eight years in his current role," Greff wrote following the announcement.

Pinnacle also announced in March that it entered into a strategic agreement with Wynn Resorts that will allow customers use their loyalty points at the Wynn and Encore resorts on the Las Vegas Strip.

Pinnacle doesn't have a Strip casino, and Wynn doesn't have other regional operations.

"The alliance is unique in that it will allow Pinnacle to reward its top players with a Vegas experience without having to outlay the capital required to build, buy or maintain a Vegas asset," Santarelli wrote following the announcement.

Santarelli believes this will be one of several announcements from Pinnacle regarding providing benefits to its tiered customers.

Pinnacle is scheduled to report its first-quarter results on April 28, and analysts are calling for a profit of 4 cents a share on revenue of $289.5 million.

"We continue to believe that Pinnacle's relatively new CEO, Anthony Sanfilippo, and his team will drive increased operating efficiencies, allocate capital prudently and sell noncore businesses/assets," Greff wrote.

--Written by Jeanine Poggi in New York.

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