Add Boyd Gaming Corp. to the race to operate a casino in Japan.
CEO Keith Smith used a fourth-quarter conference call Wednesday to express Boyd Gaming’s interest in the potential Japanese casino market. The country is exploring casino legalization as a way to pay for infrastructure associated with being host of the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo.
“We’re always looking for ways to grow the business,” Smith said, adding that he and a development executive recently traveled to Tokyo to initially view the market.
“We’re investigating ... to see if it’s a good fit for us,” Smith said. “It’s very early in the process and the opportunity is in the exploratory phase.”
Smith said it was too early “to worry about how to finance” a Japanese casino.
The comments surprised some analysts on the conference call.
Smith said Boyd missed out on other international opportunities in the past, including Macau, because it was a small company.
“We’re much larger today than we were in early the early 2000s,” Smith said.
Japan, which has shied from legalizing gaming in the past, is considered to be an untapped lucrative market by many in the investment community. The potential has attracted interest from MGM Resorts International, Las Vegas Sands Corp., Caesars Entertainment and the Malaysia-based Genting Group.
Recently, Las Vegas Sands Chairman Sheldon Adelson said he would spend $10 billion “or whatever it takes” to win a Japanese casino license.
Boyd Gaming said Wednesday it reduced its fourth-quarter net loss while growing revenue 9.1 percent.
The Las Vegas-based regional casino operator said its net loss for the quarter that ended Dec. 31 was $47.3 million or 43 cents per share. In the same quarter a year ago, Boyd recorded a net loss of $899.9 million, or $10.24 per share, which included a nearly $1 billion noncash impairment charge on the former Echelon site, which was sold to Genting Group.
The net loss wasn’t a surprise to the investment community.
Boyd Gaming pre-announced the company’s fourth-quarter results at the end of January, saying the loss was expected because of “several short-term factors in December” related to the Borgata in Atlantic City.
The company said an unusually low hold percentage at the Borgata’s casino and severe winter weather during two weekends hurt business results.
Despite the pessimistic outlook, the Borgata increased revenue 6.5 percent in the quarter to $157.1, which included $2.2 million from the casino’s newly launched online gaming operations in New Jersey.
Smith looked beyond the net loss at progress the company made in several endeavors, namely the integration of six Southern and Midwest casinos acquired in the $1.45 billion purchase of regional gaming rival Peninsula Gaming a year earlier and signs of recovery in Las Vegas.
“We made significant refinements to our marketing and operations, launched a market-leading online gaming presence in New Jersey, and introduced our Penny Lane initiative across the country,” Smith said of the company’s slot machine marketing program that include an Abraham Lincoln character.
Smith added that Boyd “significantly strengthened” its balance sheet, repaying $525 million in debt and eliminating more than $60 million in interest expense.
Boyd Gaming said its total net revenue in the fourth quarter grew to $681.5 million.
In Las Vegas, the company’s locals gaming market segment saw revenue of $148.6 million remain flat compared with a year ago, while Boyd’s downtown casinos increased revenue 3.7 percent to $59.8 million.
“Our Las Vegas locals business returned to consistent growth, with four consecutive quarters of (cash flow) gains,” Smith said.
For the full year, Boyd Gaming said its net revenue grew 16.6 percent to $2.89 billion. The company lost $80.3 million, or 83 cents per share in 2013, compared with a net loss of $908.9 million, or $10.37 per share in 2012.
Boyd Gaming reported quarterly results after the markets closed Wednesday. Shares were up 14 cents or 1.22 percent to finish at $11.61 on the New York Stock Exchange.
Contact reporter Howard Stutz at email@example.com or 702-477-3871. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.