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Casino stocks are taking a hit as consumers struggle with inflation and recession fears

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Shares of casino companies have plummeted even as inflation has soared at rates not seen in four decades and fears of a recession rattle consumers and investors alike.

Caesars Entertainment stock has plummeted 50% so far this quarter. Bally’s has dropped 40% over the same time period, and Penn National Gaming and MGM Resorts shares have declined 35%. To compare, the S&P 500, which recently entered a bear market, is down nearly 19% this quarter.

Yet, the nation’s commercial casinos just had their best April ever, according to the American Gaming Association. The industry posted $4.99 billion in revenue, up 12.4% year over year. It’s the second-highest grossing month ever, following March of this year.

On earnings calls in April and May, casino executives collectively denied seeing any slowdown in customer spending, in spite of soaring gas, housing and food costs, except in the very lowest demographic of customer.

In a note published this week, Jefferies gaming analyst David Katz wrote that meetings with management teams in Las Vegas provided “evidence of the dichotomy between the current operating strength and the markets’ expectation of a recession.”

Danny Owens of Sacramento, Calif. plays a slot machine in downtown Las Vegas, Nevada, June 4, 2020.
Steve Marcus | Reuters

Katz wrote that MGM, Caesars, Wynn Resorts, Boyd Gaming, Golden Entertainment, and Red Rock Resorts, which owns Stations casinos, say business levels continue to be “very strong” in the second and third quarter, with demand pricing and volume levels above 2019 and strong bookings into 2023, as conference business and international travel rebound in Las Vegas.

But Derek Stevens, owner of three downtown Las Vegas properties, including Circa, is telling a different story. In April, he told CNBC he was beginning to see the impact from inflation based on the amount of cash being withdrawn from casino ATMs.

There has been no letup since then, he told CNBC this week.

“It’s just really accelerated,” Stevens said. “Every weekend has been worse than the prior weekend.”

He described it as a downward spiral: Bars have suffered the biggest percentage decline, and gaming has seen the biggest impact as slots and table games have experienced a slowdown.

And yet, Stevens said, demand for travel is still there: Reservations at his Las Vegas hotels are holding steady, without any room discounts. Hotel guests are limiting their spending elsewhere, he added, noting that customers are spending less on restaurants and extra amenities at the pool and other discretionary items.

“If you’re on the West Coast, you might have felt it a little bit quicker because gas prices,” Stevens said, referring to California’s super-high fuel costs. “You can immediately see it in discretionary consumer spending.”

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