Churchill Downs, DraftKings Among Gaming Stocks Chastening Short Sellers

Posted on: June 2, 2020, 07:18h. 

Last updated on: June 3, 2020, 09:00h.

Count Churchill Downs (NASDAQ:CHDN) and DraftKings (NASDAQ:DKNG) among the gaming stocks making life uncomfortable for short sellers. They are potentially signaling that these names and others could offer some near-term upside as bearish traders rush to cover.

Short Traders In Trouble
Some traders are flirting with trouble with short positions in gaming stocks. (Image: Reuters)

With shelter-in-place policies and casino shutdowns the orders of the day starting in March, shorting gaming equities became one of 2020’s easiest and most profitable trades…until it wasn’t. With stay-at- home directives now largely lifted, a slew of regional casinos open, and Nevada gaming properties joining the fun on June 4, being bearish on gaming stocks carries immense near-term risk.

Short sellers have lately begun trimming their exposure in the sector, after having shorted the sector heavily during the stay-at-home policies brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic,” said S3 Partners Managing Director Ihor Dusaniwsky in a note obtained by “There was +$1.10 billion of net short selling in the sector from March to May, with $440 million of new short selling executed over the last month. But recently, we have seen short covering in the sector, with -$28 million of net short covering executed over the last week.”

Dusaniwsky notes S3 covers 61 stocks in the casino and gaming sector, which have aggregate short interest of $6.16 billion, 95 percent of which is devoted to the 10 most-shorted names.

Messing With Fire

Believe it or not, bearish traders sunk their teeth into DraftKings, a stock that’s more than doubled since its April 24 initial public offering (IPO).

“DraftKings (DKNG) saw the largest change in short seller sentiment, with short selling turning into short covering by the end of the May,” said Dusaniwsky. “DraftKings short sellers had been net short sellers for the first three weeks of last month, adding $263 million of short exposure. But they have been covering a portion of their shorts over the last week with $47 million of net buy-to-covers executed.”

Other companies with sports betting exposure, including Churchill Downs and Boyd Gaming, are experiencing short covering, though the catalyst with Boyd may be more about the company’s Louisiana and Mississippi venues reopening last month, and nine of its 12 Las Vegas properties slated to do so on Thursday.

Regardless of industry, heavily shorted stocks can rapidly change directions, forcing traders holding bearish bets to cover those positions, which only fans bullish flames. There is some data suggesting short sellers in gaming stocks got a little too greedy.

“Over the last week, Casino & Gaming short sellers gave back a quarter of their mark-to-market profits, losing -$598 million of their +$2.40 billion stack of chips,” adds Dusaniwsky.

During that time, DraftKings and Boyd were two of the four biggest problems for short sellers.

Surprise Scenario

In what can be described as surprising, the most-shorted gaming stock is Eldorado Stocks (NASDAQ:ERI). That was a great trade for the bears that rode the stock down from $70 or the high $60s to the March low of $6. But the stock has since posted a six fold gain.

Making matters potentially dangerous for ERI bears is that they need to unwind a lot of supply in the event of another rally. As a percentage of float sold short, ERI resides north of 39 percent, according to S3 data. In dollar terms, that’s nearly $960 billion.

As a percentage of float sold short, the next closest casino operator is Penn National Gaming (NASDAQ: PENN) at 21 percent. Bearish traders are seeing profits eaten away with Penn, too, as the stock is up 733 percent from its March lows.