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LAS VEGAS-Ameristar Casinos Inc. said Tuesday that its nearly ten-fold increase in first quarter earnings is attributable to its renewed focus on profitability and lower costs. The locally based company owns and operates six properties in Nevada, Missouri, Iowa and Mississippi.

Earnings for the quarter rose to $24 million, or $0.41 per share, from $2.6 million, or $0.05 per share in the first quarter of last year, which included a one-time charge of $17.1 million, or $0.30 per share, related to the early retirement of debt. Revenue (after promotional allowances) for the first three months of 2007 was $259.1 million, up $3 million from the year-earlier period.

The range of analysis’s expectation was $0.34- to $0.41 per share for an average of $0.37. The company’s share price gained $0.09 on Tuesday and is trading up again today along with many of the other public casino-resort operators. In afternoon trading, share of Ameristar stood at $30.96, up $0.50 (1.64%) on the day.

Ameristar Casinos said each of its casino saw improvement in operating margins because it has been focusing more on profitability than market share. The Black Hawk Casino in Denver performed especially well despite poor weather, according to a statement by Ameristar chief executive John Boushy. Casino operating expenses fell $5 million from one year ago to $110.1 million while overall operating expenses dropped by $3.2 million to $209.2 million.

Ameristar is looking to double its EBITDA over the next three- to five years. In April, it took a step in that direction when it agreed to acquire Resorts East Chicago. “Now that the due diligence phase is complete, we are even more enthusiastic about this property…,” says Ameristar co-chairman Gordon Kanofsky. “We believe there is substantial potential to grow this already well-positioned property.”

Other casino-resort companies also have been performing well as of late. A long-running gaming index produces by locally based Applied Analysis that tracks the daily average share price of nine companies with significant operations in Nevada rose 2.8% in April, albeit mostly on healthy market expectations in Macau.

The rise follows two months of decline for the index, which was launched in launched in 1998 with a value of 100 and now stands at 478.25. In March, the Index posted its largest ever monthly decline in March, falling 29.1 points to 465.13. Prior to the two-month decline, the Index rose for six straight months and topped 500 for the first time.

The companies that comprise the Index are Las Vegas Sands, Wynn Resorts, MGM Mirage, Boyd Gaming, Harrah’s Entertainment, Station Casinos, Bally Technologies, International Gaming Technologies and WMS Industries. The index is weighted based on market capitalizations, which means Las Vegas Sands has the largest influence on the Index.

The Index’s 2.8% gain in April was slower than the broader markets (defined as the S&P 500 when calculated on a similar basis as the Index), which were up approximately 4%. Compared to the same period one-year earlier however, the Index is up 28.3% while the broader markets are up 12.4%. Most of the companies in the Index did not release their first quarter earnings in April so they are not yet reflected in the Index.

In explaining the recent improvement, Applied Analysis principal Brian Gordon states in the report that the share price valuations are being driven by strong expectations in Macau. The beneficiaries are those with existing operations there (MGM and Las Vegas Sands) and those with operations opening later this year (Wynn and Las Vegas Sands).

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