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Is Penn Entertainment Stock a Screaming Buy Ahead of the ESPN Bet Launch?

Motley Fool - Thu Oct 19, 2023

Penn Entertainment(NASDAQ: PENN) is on the cusp of a potentially transformative venture: the launch of ESPN Bet this fall. With the gambling company's stock experiencing a slump, investors are eyeing the upcoming debut of this sportsbook as a way to potentially propel Penn's earnings forward. With that in mind, is now the opportune moment to invest in Penn?

Understanding Penn's financial health

Penn Entertainment thrives on a diverse revenue model, deeply rooted in its extensive array of gaming operations, including everything from casinos to racetracks. Slot machines, table games, and sports betting provide revenue for the company.

Beyond the physical establishments, Penn continues making significant strides in the digital realm, offering iCasino games and sports wagering apps, catering to the growing demand for online gambling options.

Penn's latest financial results present a puzzle. The company pulled in $1.67 billion in revenue last quarter, a 2.9% climb from the previous year, and its net income rocketed to $78.1 million, jumping significantly from the prior year's $26.1 million. These figures suggest a company with a knack for revenue generation and operational stability.

However, a 5.5% dip in adjusted EBITDAR (essentially, earnings before the deduction of several key expenses) hints at underlying operational or market challenges.

The online gambling landscape

According to Grandview Research, the online betting scene is rapidly expanding, projected to grow at an 11.7% compound annual rate. For Penn, the trend toward online betting is becoming a boon. Drive Research notes that 75% of sportsbook bettors prefer online or mobile app betting.

The key for investors lies in Penn's approach to user experiences and retention, factors that directly influence its market position and its stock performance going forward.

The potential of ESPN Bet

Penn's alliance with Walt Disney's ESPN brand is a pivotal strategy, aiming to harness ESPN's massive audience to expand its own user base. But this strategy appears costly as Penn has committed to paying ESPN $1.5 billion over the next decade, plus a large chunk in equity.

Despite the fanfare, there's a challenge: DraftKings(NASDAQ: DKNG), a titan in the sports betting space, remains the go-to choice for 57% of bettors, according to Drive Research. So, Penn's gamble is not just launching ESPN Bet, but also convincing users to switch allegiances, a move crucial for growing its market share and revenue.

This partnership is more than a branding exercise; it represents a significant financial commitment and a strategic pivot. For investors, the key lies in Penn's ability to convert ESPN's audience into revenue-generating users by offering a superior betting experience, exclusive content, or more attractive odds, perhaps.

But it's not just about drawing them in; it's also about keeping them. That's where understanding user behavior and preferences can pay off, turning casual bettors into loyal users, and loyal users into revenue.

Challenges to Penn's potential growth abound

DraftKings' stronghold shows that brand loyalty in online betting remains high. To counter this, Penn must innovate, not just replicate. ESPN Bet must offer something that DraftKings doesn't. Exclusive sports analyses, insider information, and better integration with live sports events likely top the list as potential differentiators.

Plus, there's the tech aspect. The platform must offer an intuitive design, robust performance, and quick, secure transactions. Any hiccups, and users won't hesitate to switch back to their old favorites.

Penn's divestiture from Barstool, a previous crowd-puller, means it needs a new magnet for bettors. Plus, in a rapidly evolving tech space, staying relevant poses an ongoing challenge. These factors introduce a degree of risk, emphasizing the need for investors to balance ESPN Bet's potential against the inherent uncertainties of the tech industry.

Is Penn stock a buy ahead of next month?

With its low stock price and looming launch of ESPN Bet this fall, Penn might seem like a golden opportunity for investors. But caution remains key. The company's next moves post-launch will determine much of its long-term success and, by extension, the wisdom of investing now. For those with an understanding of tech's volatile nature and a long-term investment horizon, Penn presents a compelling case.

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Nicholas Robbins has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has positions in and recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool recommends the following options: long January 2025 $25 calls on Penn Entertainment and short January 2025 $30 calls on Penn Entertainment. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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