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Can casino stocks win big if economy slows?

Dice and casino chips on a stock market chart; overview of

If the economy is headed for a slowdown or recession, as many analysts expect, you might instantly think about doubling down on casino stocks. Boyd Gaming Corp. (NYSE: BYD), Caesars Entertainment Inc. (NASDAQ: CZR), Penn Entertainment Inc. (NASDAQ: PENN) and Wynn Resorts Ltd. (NASDAQ: WYNN) have some characteristics that could make them good bets if the economy slows. 

It's understandable why many investors associate casinos with Vegas vacations or business junkets, but for some companies, their strength lies in regional business. 

That's where the potential in an economic downturn comes in: People will continue seeking local entertainment, even if they decide to skip the Vegas vacation for a year. Regional casinos are not dependent on conferences and business meetings like Las Vegas hotels.

Boyd Gaming profit rebounds

Boyd Gaming operates casinos and entertainment properties across the U.S., including Vegas. 

In recent years, the only time Boyd didn't post a profit was in 2020, when other casino operators, understandably, also posted losses.

Boyd bounced back to profitability sooner than other casino companies. That regional focus helped Boyd rebound faster than if it had been dependent on Vegas travel business. 

The company also controls expenses and has a rewards program to build customer loyalty. 

Analysts expect Boyd to grow earnings by 3% this year and 1% next year. Boyd Gaming’s price target shows a consensus view of "moderate buy." Analysts believe the stock can rally as high as $75.69, an upside of 36.88%.

Caesar’s expected to grow earnings this year

Caesar's owns several properties in Vegas and operates hotels and casinos in Illinois, Missouri, Louisiana and California. 

After losing $13.35 a share in 2020, the company narrowed its losses in the past two years. Wall Street expects Caesar’s to earn $4.31 a share this year but sees earnings declining by 56% next year.

Remember that the company should remain profitable, and with a price-to-earnings ratio of nine, it’s trading at a fairly low valuation relative to future earnings. 

Penn Entertainment's deal with ESPN

The casino operator was recently in the news when it struck a deal with Walt Disney Co. (NYSE: DIS) ESPN to rebrand its sportsbook properties as ESPN Bet

According to the companies' August announcement about the deal, Penn agreed to pay ESPN $1.5 billion in cash over 10 years and grant ESPN $500 million of warrants to purchase approximately 31.8 million common shares of Penn. If Disney sells off ESPN, as many analysts believe likely, the buyer will take on the Penn financial deal.

Penn, which operates casinos and hotels throughout the U.S., does not have a location in Las Vegas, opting for the suburban market of Henderson, Nevada. 

Like Boyd, it rebounded to profitability quickly after the pandemic, reporting earnings per share of $2.48 in 2021. The company should earn $4 per share this year, up 200% year-over-year. 

Wynn Resorts: Macau business bouncing back

Wynn operates upscale resorts in Las Vegas, although it has properties in Macau and Boston. That portfolio made the company more vulnerable to pandemic restrictions, as well as a reduction in corporate business. 

For those reasons, the company lost money in the past three years.

In the most recent quarter, the Macau operations posted the biggest year-over-year percentage gains, which makes sense, given China's slow post-COVID-19 reopening, versus the rest of the world. Tourists in the region were beginning their version of "revenge travel." 

The company earned 91 cents a share in the most recent quarter, up from a loss in the year-earlier quarter. Revenue grew by 76% to $1.596 billion.

MarketBeat's Wynn analyst ratings show a consensus view of "moderate buy" with a price target of $123.18, an upside of 40.71%. 

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