The Maven: Vice's Vexing Day

From the time The Business Maven was a little kid, he has wanted to start an addictive-products mutual fund. My thought was that between drinking, smoking, gambling and all the other sorts of bad behavior that are hard as heck to stop, there was money to be made.

So it was with some surprise that I read about online gaming stocks in the London markets making some big-ticket tumbles. BetOnSports, PartyGaming, 888 Holding and Sportingbet were down between 6% and 20%. The news was an emerging legal morass, or maybe just an emerging public-relations mess masquerading as a legal mess.

David Carruthers, the CEO of BetOnSports, was detained by U.S. authorities while catching a connecting flight from the U.K. to Costa Rica, where the company has operations.

Don't you hate when that happens?

In any case, U.S.-British relations have withstood a lot, but with American politicians harrumphing about online gaming and many of the British gambling outfits' business coming from America, arresting British executives traveling with their wives is like a Boston Tea Party gone backwards. Last week, the House of Representatives voted to make it illegal for banks and credit-card companies to process payments for online gambling; that would put the kibosh on the entire industry -- if the Senate were serious about voting for it and if there weren't 1,432 ways around it.

In any case, as an analyst with a firm grasp of the obvious is quoted as saying in The Telegraph:

"David Carruthers is a prominent advocate of the pro-online gambling industry and the fear that this is an escalation of the anti-lobby will trouble markets."

In a story that is, oddly, somewhat related: There was news across the wires late Sunday night that Robert Brooks, the chairman of Hooters of America, was found dead. An autopsy will be performed today on the 69-year-old chairman of the 425-locations-strong chain of chicken wings and notoriously outfitted waitresses.

Back on the subject of gambling, Barron's interviewed a very much clothed Larry Haverty, whom The Business Press Maven has always respected. Haverty is a consumer-stock specialist for Gabelli, where he's been running money since The Business Press Maven was a tyke, dreaming of that addictive-products fund.

Despite the current challenges in our economy, Haverty likes a lot of the gaming stocks: Las Vegas Sands ( LVS), Boyd Gaming ( BYD), MGM Mirage ( MGM), Harrah's Entertainment ( HET), International Game Technology ( IGT) and Pinnacle Entertainment ( PNK).

He says that essentially, gas prices might cause a brief disruption in the Las Vegas markets, but local construction is incredibly strong (who has to spend money on travel to Vegas to play craps if you live there?), the stocks are relatively cheap, and cash flow is good. Las Vegas has also become more than just a gambling center. It's a giant conference center, and that is likely to help it in any kind of slowdown.

On that note, there's a good story in this morning's Los Angeles Times on the fact that casinos are even attracting public events such as high-school graduations for the burgeoning local school districts that lack big halls. What would Bugsy Siegel think?

Who knows? He was actually reading the Los Angeles Times when he was killed by a gunshot through the eye, but let's go back to Barron's for now. Don't miss the cover story, which makes a compelling case that Apple ( AAPL) is a good buy. Mark Veverka writes that this year, the stock has been weak on fears that the iPod craze is slowing. But don't forget the personal computer, he warns; Apple's increased capacity for Windows could lead to a resurgence.

Airbus, which is also hoping for a resurgence (though probably with less cause) is disclosing details and giving tours of its totally redesigned midsized plane today. Read The New York Times' coverage of the company's attempt to put the A380 mess behind it anywhere you look.

And The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that Intel ( INTC) will introduce a long-delayed model of Itanium, "one of the most ambitious chips ever," tomorrow, which means Tuesday.

Also in the Journal this morning, a good, smart look at AnnTaylor ( ANN). In sum: The stores look good, the stock has done great ... but look out. Writes Steven D. Jones, "some of its biggest costs -- leases on its more than 800 stores -- aren't even reflected on its balance sheet, a common practice that accounting rule makers may look to overhaul."

I hate when that happens.

And on Friday, amid the bombing, we started to look at how some Israeli exporters might make a good -- though courageous -- trade. The stocks have been kicked around badly, but considering how much of their business comes from overseas trade and that the bombing, while terrible, may prove to be isolated to the north and short-term -- well, why not?

The latest update from The Jerusalem Post early this morning is not good, but in the cold-reasoned world of the trader, the bombing is still contained. Unlike, that is, the appetite for gambling.

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