Gambling On Casino Stocks: 2 Safe Bets, 3 To Avoid

by: Vatalyst

Whatever the state of the economy, people go to casinos. This may not be the best choice for gamblers, but it means investors have some real opportunities to partake in casino profits. With dozens of gambling and gaming-related companies traded across the world, an investor has many choices. Some are safe bets, some could break the bank, and some not even Lady Luck could make good.

Let's look at these five casino stocks to see which one is right for your portfolio. Specifically, these five were chosen because they all have forward price earnings ratios below the industry average and also have PEG ratios below 0.9. This means these stocks are discounted on a growth basis. In other words, these are the casino stocks that offer the best oppportunities for earnings growth to growth-oriented investors. However, a more detailed analysis of valuation is warranted:

Penn National Gaming, Inc. (NASDAQ:PENN): On a day of high gains across the sector, only Penn National Gaming seems to be unable to run with the bull. With a stock price increase of only $0.64 (1.75%) for last Thursday's bull run, only smaller companies such as Pinnacle Entertainment (NYSE:PNK) fared worse with a loss of -2%. For a sector leader with nearly $3 billion in shares outstanding, investors should be curious at PENN's lackluster performance. The reasons are not hard to spot. PENN's return on average assets of -1.34% is among the worst in the field, with Churchill Downs, Inc. (NASDAQ:CHDN) and International Speedway Corp (NASDAQ:ISCA) blowing by it with 2.24 and 2.88 respectively. Its return on average equity of -3.28 is almost as bad as micro-cap Canterbury Park Holdings (NASDAQ:CPHC) at 3.69, but investors should expect better from a company with almost one hundred times the capitalization. With a negative net profit margin and no dividends expected, PENN seems like an overvalued choice that has nowhere to go but down.

Las Vegas Sands Corp. (NYSE:LVS): One of the largest companies in its sector, LVS is currently trading around $45, just halfway between its 52-week low of $36.05 and high of $55.47. This represents a change of over $14 billion in total market capitalization, a margin large enough to swallow most of its competitors. While investor confidence is well-placed in this giant of the gaming industry, more aggressive investors might wonder whether its competitors show more opportunity for return on investment. MGM Resorts International (NYSE:MGM) shows earnings per share of a muscular 4.87 in comparison to LVS at 1.21, even the France-based Casino Guichard Perrachon SA has a comparable market capitalization with almost four times the earnings per share. Either would be a smart choice for the hungry investor. For the more conservative buyer, small-caps Ameristar Casinos (NASDAQ:ASCA) and Monarch Casino & Resort (NASDAQ:MCRI) show considerably less volatility, with beta coefficients of 1.53 and 1.69 compared to 3.80 for LVS. Leave this one for the hedge funds; in the world of investing, slow and steady never won a race.

Wynn Resorts Limited (NASDAQ:WYNN): With a single-day increase of $8.44 per share on Thursday, WYNN common stock is among the biggest gainers in the sector. A large-cap with over $17 billion in market capitalization, it's no wonder that the stock is struggling to keep its price to earnings ratio under 30. But there are reasons why investors are so confident. Its earnings per share of 4.28 is among the best in the sector, comparable to micro-caps such as Riviera Holdings at 4.90. It is also one of the only issues in the sector to pay a regular dividend, and its $8 per share cannot be matched by ASCA's $.42 per share. Its return on average assets of 4.44 is matched only by small-cap MCRI with 4.51, and its net profit margin of 7.57 is beaten only by LVS at 11.40. A safe investment with a regular dividend and a rising stock price might very well be worth the wager, especially for the value investor with long-term investment goals.

Melco Crown Entertainment Ltd. (MPEL): One of only six companies licensed by China to operate in Macau, Melco's share price is booming due to the increased value of the dollar against the yuan. With a single-day share price increase of 9.62% on Thursday, shares have far outstripped their 52-week low of $5.55. But all is not rosy for this Asian monopoly. Its price to earnings ratio is 60.84, the highest of all its competitors. Its earnings per share of only 0.20 is one of the lowest in the industry. Among profitable companies in the sector, only micro-cap Century Casinos (NASDAQ:CNTY) is lower at 0.09. Up-and-coming rivals Asia Entertainment and Resources (AERL) and Galaxy Entertainment Group (OTCPK:GXYEY) are both trading as well today with price increases of 7.18% and 11.17%, respectively. Even market giant Sands China Ltd. has risen 8.14% for a single-day gain of more than $14 billion in total capitalization. While a rising tide lifts all boats, this looks more like a tsunami; when the wave rolls back, this stock is likely to land on the rocks.

MGM Resorts International (MGM): It's been a difficult month for the owner of the MGM Grand. The stock is trading around $11.50, down from a high of $15.43 just three month ago. This is an increase from the 52-week low of $7.40, with an equivalent rise in its total market capitalization from $3.6 billion to over $5.6 billion. Yet this isn't the first time MGM has had to recover from a slump. Over the last two years its shares have dropped below the $10 mark on six different occasions, sometimes remaining there for more than a week. This extreme volatility makes an investment in the stock seem like a hefty gamble, but this seems to be a trend across the entire industry. Direct competitor LVS, though having a significantly greater market share with a capitalization over $33 billion, has an equally volatile beta coefficient of 3.80 and 52-week range of nearly $20. Both Boyd Gaming Corporation (NYSE:BYD) and Isle of Capri Casinos (NASDAQ:ISLE) have 52-week ranges of twice the their stock's current value. With a steady income of nearly $3 billion per year and a magnificent price to earings ratio of only 2.02, MGM is much more likely to pay out than its slot machines. Investors could do worse than to buy today, but they would do well to wait until the stock has dropped to the $9 or even $8 mark, which history suggests it is all but guaranteed to do.

Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.