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Private Briefingwith WILLIAM PATALON III, Executive Editor
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Rather than being suckered by the glamour and neon lights at casinos, savvy investors looking for stocks to buy now are putting the odds on their side and betting on "the house."
That's because casino stocks are promising big returns for shareholders.
Plus, the gaming industry is still in the early stages of what should be a sustained recovery from the financial crisis that had lightened gamblers' wallets.
But identifying the best casino stocks to buy now involves more than a weekend jaunt to Vegas.
Due diligence on gaming stocks now requires a look at gambling's biggest hotspot - Macau, a former Portuguese colony that is now a special administrative region under Chinese rule.
Macau gaming revenue reached a staggering $33.5 billion in 2011, according to Macau's Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau, a 42% increase over 2010.
That means Macau's gamblers bet more than all the top 20 U.S. casinos combined.
"To put this year's gross gaming revenue and growth rate into perspective, total gross gaming revenue in Macau will be approximately 5.5 times the gross gaming revenue generated on the Las Vegas Strip, while the rate of growth in Macau will be roughly 10 times the rate on the Las Vegas Strip," Union Gaming Group's Macau-based principal Grant Govertsen wrote in a research note.
And it's not slowing anytime soon. Macau's gaming revenue is expected to jump 20% - 30% in 2012, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
But get this: According to Jim Murren, CEO of MGM Resorts International(NYSE: MGM), even though 60% of visitors to Macau are from mainland China, they represent just 1% of China's population.
No wonder Macau is adding infrastructure to handle an influx of even more gamblers, especially in Macau's Cotai region, the rough equivalent of the Las Vegas strip.
The government is doubling its immigration-handling capacity at the China-Macau border and relaxing visa restrictions for frequent bettors.
And the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge, slated for completion in 2016, will cut travel time by car from Hong Kong from four to five hours to 30 minutes.
The more successful casinos can generate 20% to 25% in annual earnings growth over the next two to three years, Credit Suisse Group AG (ADR NYSE: CS) Asian gaming analyst Gabriel Chan told Barron's.
Here are three companies worth a wager:
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