Monarch Casino a Best-in-Class Idea Among Regional Gaming Names, Says Analyst

Posted on: April 24, 2020, 10:45h. 

Last updated on: April 24, 2020, 11:15h.

Monarch Casino & Resort (NASDAQ:MCRI) is one of the smallest publicly traded gaming companies by market value – just $496 million – but it has massive upside potential in the eyes of some analysts.

Monarch Casino earnings
Atlantis owner Monarch Casino could be a regional gaming winner. (Image: YouTube)

The Reno-based company owns just two casinos – the Atlantis Casino-Resort in its home market and the Monarch Casino Black Hawk in the Colorado town of the same name. That diminutive footprint isn’t keeping some on Wall Street from being enthusiastic about the stock.

In addition to owning all of its real estate, MCRI had one of the best balance sheets in gaming, coming into the pandemic with 2.2x net leverage at year-end,” said Union Gaming analyst John DeCree in a note to clients today.

Selling real estate to boost cash holdings is common in the gaming industry. But analysts are divided on whether the moves are practical. Those in favor of liquidating casino property holdings argue operators aren’t real estate companies, and selling property creates a near-term influx of capital while moving risk off the balance sheet. Conversely, those that don’t favor real estate sales as a means of boosting cash say the move creates a new liability for the seller in the form of what are usually lengthy leases.

Dealing With a Rough Climate

Like its larger rivals, Monarch is contending with temporary property shutdowns forced by the coronavirus. Its Atlantis in Reno has been shuttered for more than a month, and the same is true of the company’s Centennial State property.

The impact of the coronavirus closures on Monarch’s top and bottom lines is evident, as highlighted by the company’s first-quarter results revealed earlier this week. For the first three months of the year, the regional gaming operator earned 11 cents a share on revenue of $51.01 million. Wall Street was expecting earnings of 29 cents on turnover of $54.34 million.

Monarch CEO John Farahi said the COVID-19 outbreak is slowing some of the company’s construction plans in Colorado, “and we do not yet have a definitive timeline for the property opening.”

The company is trying to get a temporary certificate of occupancy from the town of Black Hawk. The goal is to make the first five floors of the hotel and some floors in a new tower available for guest use when Colorado signs off on reopening gaming venues.

Analysts and investors view Monarch’s Centennial State property as integral to the operator’s efforts to increase revenue and cash flow.

Analyst Sees Lots to Like

While Monarch confronts the same coronavirus headwinds as its larger rivals, DeCree believes the company’s strong balance sheet is an advantage.

“This provides the company with ample liquidity to weather the storm and emerge from the pandemic in a favorable position to be opportunistic and potentially consolidate smaller, less well-capitalized operators at attractive prices,” he said.

The Union Gaming analyst has a “buy” rating on Monarch stock, with a price target of $38, implying upside of 45 percent from Thursday’s close.