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Benjamin Spillman

April cruel to gaming stocks

1 May 2008

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Publicly owned gambling companies lost 2.5 percent of their value in April, in large part due to economic tumult that has home prices in the basement and oil costs in the stratosphere.

Investors watched eight out of 10 gambling stocks lose ground on the Applied Analysis Gaming Index, which was down for the fifth time in the last six months.

The index reflects broad, negative sentiment for the short-term prospects of Las Vegas, where visitation, hotel room rates and the amount of money gamblers lose to casinos have declined in recent months.

Companies such as MGM Mirage and Station Casinos, the latter of which isn't on the index, have already cut their work forces in response to the slowdown.

Brian Gordon, the Applied Analysis principal who compiles the index, said if Las Vegas doesn't pull out of its slump, there could be more job cuts by casino companies.

"It is an unusual situation for them to deal with following several years of strong demand," Gordon said. "Should conditions worsen, there is potential for that."

Only Wynn Resorts Ltd. and Pinnacle Entertainment, which has casinos in Indiana, Louisiana and Reno, managed to improve their positions on the index, which closed April at 499.20, down 12.7 points from the previous month.

The average daily stock price for Wynn was up nearly 7 percent to $106.10. Pinnacle's increase was barely perceptible, a 1 cent increase to $14.08.

Gordon said Wynn Resorts, which is in the process of expanding an existing casino in Macau and has land to build another, likely benefited from an April 22 announcement by a Chinese official that the government won't issue new gambling licenses on the island.

"Those with licenses are potentially in a much better position," Gordon said. "Investors see that as a positive."

Las Vegas companies already doing business in China such as Wynn, Las Vegas Sands Corp. and MGM Mirage will continue to increase their investment there.

That's important to people in Nevada because it gives those companies, which employ tens of thousands of Las Vegas residents, opportunity to soften whatever damage American economic woes are doing to their stock prices.

"The stock price is going to be based on the performance of the overall company," Gordon said. "What happens overseas is significantly important."

The biggest declines on the index belonged to slot maker International Game Technology, down more than 16 percent, and MGM Mirage, which owns 10 Strip casinos, down 12 percent.

At home, myriad economic factors are taking a toll.

On Tuesday, Boyd Gaming Corp., which owns the Sam's Town, California Hotel, Main Street Station, Fremont, Gold Coast, The Orleans and Suncoast in Las Vegas, posted $32.6 million in losses for the first quarter.

That helped it slide 4.11 percent from last month on the index. Boyd is down 61 percent from last year at this time.

Boyd wasn't alone.

"Many operators hit 52-week lows during the past month," the report accompanying the index update stated.

"The national housing market remains a concern for investors, along with reduced consumer confidence levels, a slower employment outlook, elevated gasoline prices and continued uncertainty in the financial markets," it also said.

More ominously for Las Vegas, perhaps, the report noted the Conference Board, which publishes a consumer confidence index, reported the number of Americans who say they plan to take a vacation in the next six months fell to a 30-year low.

The notion that fewer people will take vacation jibes with figures published by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority that state airline and automobile traffic into Southern Nevada are also down.