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Best of Howard Stutz

Gaming Guru

Howard Stutz

Gaming stocks slide in October

2 November 2009

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Strip gaming stocks regressed in October after two months of double-digit increases in their average daily prices.

Of the seven casino operators and three slot machine manufacturers charted by Las Vegas-based financial consultant Applied Analysis for its Gaming Index, only Pinnacle Entertainment, WMS Industries and Bally Technologies saw their stock prices increase.

Every other company had declines, albeit just single-digit declines.

"Investors pulled back late in the month, leaving the majority of companies finishing lower than where they started," Applied Analysis principal Brian Gordon wrote in a report to clients Friday.

The index fell a few points in October to close at 292.36, which was still the first year-over-year increase in 16 months.

"On a company-by-company basis, all operators (other than MGM Mirage) and equipment makers posted annual growth in stock price valuation," Gordon said.

In the last few weeks of October, several gaming companies reported third-quarter earnings, which for the most part didn't show positive results in July, August and September. Harrah's Entertainment lost more than $1 billion due to a huge impairment charge, and Boyd Gaming Corp. said its revenues declined more than 6 percent.

Las Vegas Sands Corp. lost $123 million due to a tax charge, but saw revenues increase 3 percent. However, the revenue jump came from its Sands Macau casino and its Sands Bethlehem property in Pennsylvania, which opened in May.

"Based on company top-line revenues and earnings, it is clear the Southern Nevada market, for both destination resorts and locals casinos, remains more impacted than properties located in other parts of the country and world," Gordon said.

Las Vegas Sands did point out one bright spot for the Strip in its earnings report: Forward-looking convention bookings in the past 90 days totaled more than 300,000 room nights, most of which have been booked for 2010.

Gordon said the figure suggests Las Vegas hotel room rates, which have hit some of the lowest levels in more than a decade, may improve in the coming year.

The biggest average daily price increase during the month was by slot machine maker WMS, whose stock price was up more than 8 percent.

With the Global Gaming Expo scheduled for next month, slot machine makers are hopeful the trade show will help spur sales that have been stagnant for more than a year because of the recession.

"Operating conditions in the equipment industry remain challenging," Susquehanna Financial Group gaming analyst Robert LaFleur told investors Friday. "While expectations are growing that operators will soon begin to refresh their slot floors at a pace greater than we have seen during the past few years, any return to a normal replacement cycle still seems a bit off in the future."

LaFleur said states that are looking at expanding or adding gaming provide the largest catalyst. Ohio citizens will vote Tuesday on a referendum that will add four Las Vegas-style casinos to the state's largest cities. Penn National Gaming is in line to operate two of the casinos.