Your Guide to Understanding Casino Earnings: Las Vegas Sands Corp. (LVS) and More

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When looking at earnings from gaming companies, trying to figure out what all of the numbers mean can be confusing. Revenue and net income are easy enough, but luck plays a role and companies throw out terms like "rolling chips" and "drop" like they're everyday terms. So, let's take a look at what those numbers mean and how they impact earnings reports.

How the house works There are generally three categories in any earnings reports: mass market play, VIP play, and slots. Mass market is simple enough: It's the average person who walks into a casino and puts money down at a table or into a slot machine. VIP players play on credit and use what are called rolling chips. Slots are just that -- slot machines. Here's what the terms and numbers mean.

Las Vegas Sands Corp. (NYSE:LVS)Slots Before we dive into the all-important VIPs, let's start with slots. Not every company reports the same data, but full disclosure would include the following.

1). Slot handle: The amount wagered at a slot machine.

2). Slot hold %: The percentage of the slot handle that is won by the casino.

3). Slot win: The casino's win, which flows to the revenue line of the income statement.

Below I have two examples, one from Las Vegas Sands Corp. (NYSE:LVS)' Venetian Macau and the other from Wynn Resorts, Limited (NASDAQ:WYNN)' Las Vegas operations. Note that all numbers in this article are from third-quarter 2012 because not all companies have reported fourth-quarter results.

Casino Slot Handle Slot Hold % Slot Revenue
The Venetian Macau $1.26 billion 4.9% $61.9 million
Wynn Las Vegas $723.5 million 6.4% $46.3 million

Source: Quarterly SEC filings.

You can see that hold percentage in The Venetian Macau was lower than that at Wynn Las Vegas, a typical difference between Las Vegas and Macau. Las Vegas Sands' U.S. properties experienced a higher hold percentage, likely due to lower-odds penny and nickel slots.

To put these numbers into some perspective, MGM Resorts International (NYSE:MGM) expects slot hold percentage to be 7.5% to 8.5%, so both of the percentages above are lower than MGM expects every quarter.

Mass-market table games When you walk up to a blackjack table in Las Vegas and you hand the dealer a $100 bill for chips, they put that money into a drop box. This is what is known as the "drop," "table game drop," or sometimes "non-rolling chip drop." The corresponding casino win is the amount left over when you cash out your chips at the cashier. Win is usually expressed as a percent of drop, which also corresponds to revenue.

Below are mass market drop numbers from three casinos in Macau, including Melco Crown Entertainment Ltd (ADR) (NASDAQ:MPEL)'s City of Dreams. I've also included the expected win percentage for companies that publish such data.

Casino Table Game Drop Table Game Win % Expected Win % Table Game Revenue
The Venetian Macau $1.14 billion 31.3% N/A $357.1 million
Sands Macau $739 million 20.8% N/A $153.7 million
Wynn Macau $686.1 million 30.8% 26%-28% $211.3 million
City of Dreams $889.8 million 27.4% 25%-30% $243.8 million

Source: Quarterly earnings releases.

Think about these win percentages next time you enter a casino. The numbers say you'll only walk out with about 70% of what you put down at a table.

Where the big bucks are made In recent years, investors have become focused on rolling chip drop, or VIP play in Macau's casinos.

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