BALTIMORE (Stockpickr) -- The heat of summer's finally here -- and with that heat comes the swarms of travelers to vacation hotspots around the globe. Until recently, Las Vegas would have been one of the top choices on that list.
That's changed in the last couple of years as consumers' discretionary spending tightened and casinos fell to the bottom of the priority chain. In response, everyone from the airlines to the resort companies has slashed prices, hoping that bargains would lure tourists to spend cash in Vegas' famous casinos. The city's tourism machine, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, spent millions to convince consumers that "what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas." And ultimately, the efforts of Sin City seem to be paying off -- and potentially rewarding Wall Street too.
But Vegas isn't the only option for casino giants anymore. There's growth to be had in Macau, China's own version of Vegas.
Here's a look at how a resurgence in Las Vegas visitors and continued growth in Macau could be benefitting shareholders of
While each of these three stocks has substantial business outside of Vegas, the city remains a cornerstone of each company -- and a potential catalyst for significant EPS growth in third-quarter 2010. But Macau's higher table bets mean potentially higher margins for gaming firms who want to maximize their casino real estate.
One way to take advantage of an uptick in Las Vegas' consumer spending is through $15 billion casino stock
Las Vegas Sands
, helmed by Sheldon Adelson, which owns the famed Venetian Resort Hotel Casino as well as the more-storied Sands name. As with many other gaming plays, Sands is highly leveraged and extremely reliant on consumer trends to keep its rooms full and its gaming floors active. While Sands has been one of the biggest players in Macau, China's only gambling destination, and other venues in Asia, Nevada continues to be its bread and butter.
Among the company's biggest bets is the Palazzo Resort, a luxury hotel and casino that sits next door to the Venetian. The Palazzo opened its doors to customers in December 2007, one of the worst times to be a casino owner. But as the economy recovers, this resort could prove to be one of the most attractive if only for its luxury appeal; with AAA's coveted Five Diamond Award under its belt this year, Palazzo is one of only a handful of Vegas resorts in its class.
Who Owns Las Vegas Sands?
Palazzo's age should be a big draw for Vegas visitors this year -- and a significant contributor to LVS's improving margins. Watch out for the impact of earnings next month.
There's a similar situation unfolding at
, the resort company behind the Wynn and Encore properties on the Vegas strip and a major player in the Macau casino market. The company is founder Steve Wynn's latest foray into the casino business after carving out a permanent place in Vegas history. The self-made billionaire previously proved his casino-operating acumen with his roles in creating the Mirage, Bellagio and Treasure Island properties on the Las Vegas strip.
Wynn Resorts has been working hard to catch investors' attention in 2010. Management decided this year to start paying a quarterly dividend of 20 cents per share, a substantial commitment considering the headwinds in the casino industry following the credit crunch. Wynn invested heavily in his own high-end casino in the late 2000s; the Encore, built to be a sister property to Wynn's self-named Vegas offering, opened its doors to investors in 2008 and still has yet to show off its true potential.
Wynn's growing margins in 2010 are helping investors realize that casinos aren't inherently flawed investments.
Who Owns Wynn?
MGM Resorts International
, the focus is decidedly domestic. While the company owns stakes in casino properties overseas, its substantial investments in Las Vegas are the most impactful part of the company's property holdings. In addition to MGM's ownership of some of the most important properties on the Las Vegas strip -- including the MGM Grand and the Bellagio -- the firm's recently opened $8.5 billion CityCenter project is a testament to its confidence in the desert oasis.
While the timing of CityCenter couldn't have been worse, the bearish pressures on this stock could be overblown, particularly given its new and more attractive financing arrangements. As this stock creeps back toward profitability, investors could have a value prospect on their hands.
Who Owns MGM?
To see these casino stocks in action, check out the
-- Written by Jonas Elmerraji in Baltimore.
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At the time of publication, author had no positions in stocks mentioned.
Jonas Elmerraji is the editor and portfolio manager of the Rhino Stock Report, a free investment advisory that returned 15% in 2008. He is a contributor to numerous financial outlets, including Forbes and Investopedia, and has been featured in Investor's Business Daily, in Consumer's Digest and on MSNBC.com.