Tough economic times might stop people from going out less often and it might put a stop on non essential purchases, like a first edition of Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby in dust jacket, for example, that could be yours for just $500,000.

What hard times won’t do though is stop gamblers from betting and smokers from puffing. In fact, economic turbulence might give them even more reason to indulge. That makes so-called sin stocks, or shares of alcohol, gaming and tobacco companies, a (somewhat) safe bet as the global economy ebbs and flows.

During the 2000-02 economic downturn, Standard & Poor's Casinos and Gaming index gained 115%, while the S&P 500 Stock Index plunged 47%. Shares of tobacco giant Altria (then known as Philip Morris) more than doubled while the stock of Anheuser-Busch, the largest U.S. brewer, climbed 87%.

Sin stocks are not just for high rollers either. There are plenty of excellent penny stocks that have been thriving under the ‘sin stock’ umbrella. Still, if you’re a proponent of socially responsible investing, sin stocks probably aren’t going to find their way into your penny stock portfolio.

For the record, indulging sinners is highly profitable. A cigarette costs about $1.25 to manufacture. A single serving of liquor, including packaging expenses, costs $0.03. An average casino slot machine keeps $0.12 for every dollar fed into the device.

Last April I profiled a number of penny stock sins that I thought might have legs. With some economists fearing the U.S. might be in for a double dip recession, I thought it would be prudent to revisit some of those penny stocks; and to see what other sin stocks might be flying under the radar.

Gambling - The recession was brutal but on the Vegas strip it’s always sunny. Shuffle Master (SHFL - Nasdaq) makes automated card shufflers and other gaming machines. In early March 2009, SHFL was trading for as low as $1.97; on May 17, 2010, the company hit a new high of $10.19 – for a 14 month gain of 417%.

On June 9, SHFL beat Wall Street’s expectations for the second quarter with profit and sales rising after the company entered the market in Singapore. Second quarter earnings jumped 77% year-over-year to $7.89 million or $0.15 a share. Revenue improved by 12% to $50.8 million, compared to last year’s sales of $45.3 million; however, when adjusted for currency exchange, revenue rose just 3% compared to a year ago.

"Our second quarter showed strong year-over-year growth due to compelling drivers in our product segments such as gained momentum in our shuffler replacement cycle, the continuation of our progressive upgrade strategy, and exceptional performance in our e-Table segment," said Phillip C. Peckman, CEO.

Alcohol - Craft Brewers Alliance (HOOK – Nasdaq) markets and sells the beers of The Redhook Ale Brewery (Seattle), Widmer Brothers Brewing Company (Portland, Oregon), Kona Brewing Company (Kona, Hawaii), and Goose Island Beer Company (Chicago).

In early March 2009, HOOK hit an intra-day low of $0.85; on June 28, 2010, the company hit a new 52-week high of $5.15, for a gain of 505%.

In mid-May, HOOK announced that first quarter revenue slipped 1.3% year-over-year to $29.3 million. HOOK reported a modest first quarter profit, reversing a seven-figure loss from a year ago. The company reported earnings of $209,000 or $0.01 per share. During the first quarter of 2009, HOOK reported a (loss) of ($1.07 million) or $(0.06) per share.

Sex - Penny stock investors looking for more than just a glass of beer at their local bar can buy shares in Rick's Cabaret International (RICK - Nasdaq ). RICK runs strip joints in Texas and Minnesota as well as erotic Websites.

In early March 2009, RICK was trading at $2.44. On March 1, 2010, it hit a new 52-week high of $16.05; for a 14 month gain of 557%.

While RICK’s share price has been trending lower over the last few months, the company has been busy acquiring a new club in Fort Worth, Texas. RICK’s already owns four clubs in the Dallas-Fort Worth market. The company also has plans to open a new cabaret near the DFW International Airport later this year, which would give RICK’s six clubs in the market.

New Sin Stocks - Recent rulings could help some penny stocks. The U.S. Supreme court extended the right of Americans to own guns and rejected an attempt to pry billions of dollars of damages from tobacco companies. Still, analysts caution penny stock investors should not expect “a new golden age for sin stocks in either industry.”

Regardless, Smith & Wesson (SWHC – Nasdaq) has, since the beginning of 2010, seen its share price enter the penny stock arena. On June 30, the gun maker released earnings totals for fiscal 2010 that exceeded analysts’ expectations on the top-line.

The company reported fourth quarter profit of $2.7 million or $0.04 per share, which was in line with expectations. However, revenue of $103.8 million easily topped Wall Street’s view of $98.9 million, and in fact grew 4.3% despite expectations of a slight dip.

For the year, Smith & Wesson saw sales jump nearly 21% over fiscal 2009 to $406 million. Net income for fiscal 2010 was $32.5 million or $0.53 per diluted share, compared to a net (loss) of ($64.2 million) or $(1.37) per diluted share, for fiscal 2009.

The company also reported their backlog of orders had grown 23% to $143.1 million over the total backlog just a quarter ago.

Melco Crown Entertainment (MPEL – Nasdaq) is an owner and developer of casino gaming and entertainment resort facilities that are focused on the rapidly expanding gaming market found in Macau. Throughout its history, Macau has been a popular tourist destination for Hong Kong locals and residents of Mainland China.

MPEL has a number of projects currently underway or planned in the region. Altira Macau (formerly Crown Macau) is a contemporary hotel and casino offering one of the most exclusive and elegant accommodations in Macau.

The initial phase of MPEL’s City of Dreams opened on June 1, 2009. When fully opened, City of Dreams will offer approximately 2,200 guest rooms and a wide range of restaurants, bars, and entertainment.

To provide instant electronic gaming fun, MPEL offers Mocha Clubs. With eight Mocha Clubs already in operation throughout Macau and Taipa, Mocha Clubs offer machine-based gaming entertainment in a cafe-style setting.

In late April, MPEL announced that first quarter revenue jumped approximately 162% year-over-year to $567.6 million. The increase in net revenue resulted primarily from the opening of City of Dreams in June 2009.

MPEL reported a first quarter net (loss) of ($12.5 million) or $(0.02) per share, compared to a (loss) of ($35.3 million) or $(0.08) per share in the first quarter of 2009. The year-over-year decrease in the net loss resulted from the earnings contribution from City of Dreams.

The mushrooming middle classes in developing nations such as China are boosting demand for alcohol, casinos and cigarettes. Although tobacco consumption in the U.S. and Europe has been declining for decades, it continues to grow modestly in emerging markets. The prospect of expansion to Asia has been a key factor driving up casino stocks.

Author's Bio: 

John Whitefoot is a seasoned investor with a keen interest in international business and current affairs. As Senior Editor of, John Whitefoot is devoted to uncovering the news, trends, and ideas that affect penny stocks on a daily basis.