Las Vegas Sands Shares Surge After IPO

Shares of Las Vegas Sands Corp. (LVS) surged more than 50 percent Wednesday as the casino operator debuted on the New York Stock Exchange (search) and investors rushed to grab potential profit pipelines in Las Vegas and the Chinese enclave of Macau.

The stock rose to $44.90 Wednesday after pricing the largest public offering by a gambling company in the United States at $29 per share Tuesday night, up from the original target of $21.

''This transaction confirms the strength investors have in the gaming industry,'' said Andrew Zarnett, casino industry bond analyst for Deutsche Banc.

The company registered 23.8 million shares, raising more than $690 million in the public offering.

Underwriters -- led by Goldman, Sachs & Co. (GS) -- have the option to purchase an additional 3.5 million shares. It was trading under the ticker symbol ''LVS.''

The Sands is riding the success of casino stocks and the record profits gambling companies have been churning out since 2003. The Las Vegas-based Sands will rival casino giants MGM Mirage Inc. (MGG) and Harrah's Entertainment Inc. (HET) , the industry's two largest companies.

Part of the reason investors are bullish on the Sands rests on its plans in the two most lucrative gambling markets in the world, the Chinese enclave Macau and the Las Vegas Strip (search). Macau is a gambling mecca for Asians, and Las Vegas is on track to break its all-time visitor record of 35.8 million.

Offering proceeds will be used for the company's proposed $1.6 billion, 3,000-room Palazzo hotel-casino on the Strip and the $1.8 billion Macau Venetian Casino Resort in the Chinese territory.

Both developments are scheduled to open in 2007.

The Sands also owns The Venetian (search) megaresort on the Strip and a highly lucrative $265 million hotel-casino in Macau that began operating in May. Behind the Bellagio, which is owned by MGM Mirage, The Venetian is the second-most profitable hotel-casino in Las Vegas.

The company has also said it's looking to build casinos in the United Kingdom and possibly Singapore.

With the Sands going public, Zarnett said, the gambling landscape had now changed dramatically in Las Vegas, with the new hierarchy consisting of Harrah's Entertainment, MGM Mirage, the Sands and Wynn Resorts.

Chairman Sheldon Adelson, 71, will lead the Sands in its new public era. Adelson and trusts for him and his family will own about 88 percent of the outstanding common stock.

Zarnett said the IPO validates the Adelson business model, one that calls for making steep profits off non-gambling revenue in Las Vegas and gambling revenue in Macau.

''I think the number one thing is that it's clearly an affirmation of Sheldon's great success,'' he said.

The excitement over the Sands IPO bodes well for the rest of the gambling industry.

''Gaming as an entertainment option has become increasingly popular, so it seems logical that it could become a more mainstream investment alternative than it has been,'' said John Mulkey, a Bear Stearns Co. gambling analyst in New York.

The Sands offering was larger than casino developer Steve Wynn's $450 million IPO in 2003, who raised the money to build Wynn Las Vegas that opens in April and another hotel-casino in Macau. Wynn's IPO was priced at $13.