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Is MGM Resorts International (MGM) Stock the Best Casino Bet?

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Up nearly 50% over the course of the past twelve months and knocking on the door of new multi-year highs, MGM Resorts International (NYSE: MGM ) has been one of the market's more impressive surprises of late. Better still, revenue as well as profits per share of MGM stock took a decided turn for the better during the third quarter of 2016, suggesting the casino operator was finally shaking off the funk from a 2015 governmental crackdown on China's gambling enclave … Macau .

MGM Resorts International, MGM

Here's what investors need to know.

MGM Resorts Earnings Preview

It hasn't been an easy couple of years for MGM Resorts International. Although the stock is well up since February of last year, the bulk of that gain has been made more on hope and less on actual results.

The company, along with other casino names, has been digesting the impact of a government-induced slowdown in Macau - once considered a panacea for casino operators - and a growth slowdown in gambling activity here in the United States as online and offline alternatives continue to proliferate .

And yet, just as the industry begins work on rekindling growth of the U.S. market, in January Macau's casino's logged a sixth straight month of year-over-year improvement in gaming revenue.

At the same time, while operators in the United States seems to be fighting more competitors for fewer dollars, owners of MGM stock can celebrate the fact that the company can expand its footprint, profitably. In its first full month of operation (January), MGM Resorts' National Harbor casino in Oxon Hill, Maryland became the state's most played gaming venue .

In other words, MGM Resorts is heading into its fourth-quarter report with a tailwind.

As of the latest look, analysts expect the casino and resort outfit to report earnings of 20 cents per share of MGM stock on revenue of $2.46 billion. The company lost six cents per share on $2.192 billion in sales for the same quarter a year earlier. MGM Resorts blew away its Q3 expectations, underscoring three quarters worth of much-needed progress.

In fact, MGM has topped earnings estimates in each of its prior three quarters.

Three Things to Watch for MGM Stock

While MGM Resorts has been and continues to be a multi-faceted company, the foreseeable future for MGM stock largely depends on three specific matters. In no certain order …

Macau

While Macau's casino industry is on the mend, there's still plenty of repair work that needs to be done. Case in point: While Macau's January revenue was up a healthy 3.1%, that still fell short of expectations. MGM needs Macau's growth potential. The region only makes up about a tenth of the company's business, but it could be much more if the Chinese enclave continues to rebound.

Online Gaming

While MGM is increasingly competing with online alternatives, don't think it's not in the business itself. MGM Resorts now completely owns Atlantic City's Borgata, which gives it access to the state's legal online gambling market . Last year's online revenue for New Jersey was a pittance to the now-parent company, but with a stronger name to leverage, MGM may well make this growing venue a viable one. And that's just one state where online gaming is now allowed. Several more offer it, representing a new opportunity for the casino operator.

Japan

The idea first surfaced late last year, and the chatter hasn't abated … Japan may be on the verge of legalizing casino gambling the way Macau did. If that happens, look for that nation's casino scene to become the next Macau. Only bigger. The company has already said it's ready to commit $10 billion to establish a presence there , and there's no reason to think it won't pull that trigger to be the first one to set up shop.

Bottom Line on MGM

Regardless of how things pan out on Thursday, MGM Resorts International is a company on a turnaround path, and it remains one of the more compelling prospects in the industry. As JPMorgan's analysts put it earlier in the month:

"We continue to believe that MGM possesses the best risk-reward in gaming, with ~65% of its cash flows coming from the Las Vegas Strip (and only ~10% exposure to Macau), a market with no new supply growth and group/convention momentum, which should allow it to garner continued attractive (and above U.S. lodging industry) overall room pricing and non-gaming, out of the room spend growth aided by incremental EBITDA coming from the T-Mobile Arena and Park related investments."

In other words, MGM Resorts is doing well where it needs to - Las Vegas - while other names in the business like Las Vegas Sands Corp. (NYSE: LVS ) remain bogged down by an over-commitment to a still-tough Macau market. Macau (and then Japan and online gaming) is just a little gravy. A bearish response from MGM stock to the Q4 report may still be a buying opportunity.

As of this writing, James Brumley did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.

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The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.


The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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