* MGM adj EPS loss 31 cents vs Street view loss 27 cents
* Sands’ adjusted EPS 7 cents vs estimate 2 cents
* Both see Vegas conference bookings gaining traction
* MGM shrs fall 8 pct in regular trade, 1.6 pct after hrs
* Sands falls 7 pct in regular trade, 1.8 pct after hrs
By Deena Beasley
LOS ANGELES, May 6 (Reuters) - MGM Mirage (MGM.N), hamstrung by a slow opening for its Las Vegas CityCenter joint venture, posted a wider-than-expected first-quarter loss on Thursday, while rival Las Vegas Sands Corp (LVS.N) reported a stronger-than-expected profit as demand for gambling in China’s Macau soared.
Shares of both Las Vegas-based companies fell sharply on a day when U.S. stocks posted their largest percentage drop since April 2009.
Gambling revenue in Macau, the only place in China where casino gambling is legal, has risen in recent months — increasing 70 percent year-over-year in April — while Las Vegas has been slower to recover from the global financial slump.
MGM Mirage (MGM.N) owns 10 Las Vegas Strip casino resorts — ranging from Circus Circus to the $8.5 billion CityCenter, a joint venture with Dubai World [DBWLD.UL] that opened in December.
“MGM has two sorts of properties, the lower tier and CityCenter. The lower tier is struggling in this market,” said Sanford Bernstein analyst Janet Brashear.
Meanwhile, operations at CityCenter have yet to stabilize — Aria, the project’s centerpiece casino resort, had an operating loss of $66 million for the quarter.
“Overall, Vegas hasn’t rebounded to the magnitude investors were hoping for,” said Majestic Research analyst Matt Jacob.
Some investors have been concerned that the addition of CityCenter’s 6,000 rooms to a tourist destination already hit by the economic slump could limit the ability of Strip hotels to raise room rates.
Sands, which operates the Palazzo and Venetian resorts in Las Vegas, said its room rates have started to recover and group bookings are stronger for late 2010 and 2011.
MGM Mirage Chief Executive Jim Murren said higher-paying convention bookings accounted for 14 percent of MGM’s Las Vegas room mix in the first quarter, up from 11 percent a year ago. “As it improves into the mid teens that has a dramatic impact on overall rate,” he said on a conference call.
Murren said MGM’s Las Vegas revenue per available room — a key metric of the lodging industry that fell 8 percent in the first quarter — will turn positive in the second half of this year.
Excluding items such as an $86 million writedown for its CityCenter condos, MGM lost 31 cents a share, which was bigger than the loss of 27 cents expected by analysts in a Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S survey.
Sands, which opened a $5.5 billion casino resort in Singapore last month, posted an adjusted profit of 7 cents a share, which beat the average analyst estimate of 2 cents a share.
Operating income at the company’s Venetian Macao resort rose 70 percent to $113.9 million during the quarter, while operating income at the Sands Macao rose 60 percent to $58.5 million.
In Las Vegas, where table game revenue was up, Sand’s operating income rose 62 percent to $41.3 million.
Early results in Singapore “are extremely promising” with high-end players coming in from Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore, Chief Executive and founder Sheldon Adelson said on a conference call.
The company last year sold off a portion of its Sands China (1928.HK) unit in an initial public offering.
MGM plans to sell its 50 percent stake in the Borgata resort in Atlantic City after New Jersey regulators questioned the suitability of Pansy Ho, MGM’s joint venture partner in Macau. The venture plans to conduct an initial public offering late in the third quarter or early in the fourth quarter of this year.
Shares of MGM, which fell 8 percent to close at $13.72 on the New York Stock Exchange, were 1.6 percent lower at $13.50 after hours. Shares of Sands, which lost 7 percent to close at $21.65, were down another 1.8 percent at $21.25 after hours. (Editing by Steve Orlofsky)