Penn National Gaming's ( PENN) profit may have been slightly down in the first quarter, but there were gold linings in the casino operator's performance.

Penn beat Wall Street estimates and guided earnings and revenue higher for 2009, and shares jumped 8.5% in Thursday morning trading, up $2.37 to $30.08.

Penn reported net income of $40.66 million, or 38 cents a share, compared with $40.74 million, or 46 cents a share, a year earlier. Revenue was off 1.7% to $612.23 million. But analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters had expected EPS of 34 cents a share on $608.2 million in revenue.

"Our first quarter results are impressive when considering the current macroeconomic environment, and they highlight the strength and diversity of our gaming operations, the resilience of many of the markets where we operate and the dedication and focus of our managers and employees," said Peter M. Carlino, chairman and CEO.

Joseph Greff, gaming analyst at JPMorgan, viewed the results positively.

"These were solid results in light of extremely tough industry fundamentals, and we believe this reflects the health of PENN's markets, its strong competitive positioning in these regional, drive-to markets, and the ability to extract margin improvement even on flat year-over-year revenue performance," Greff wrote in a note to clients. "Tough to find a bone to pick within the 1Q09 results."

Penn also sees EPS of 35 cents vs. Wall Street consensus of 34 cents for the second quarter, and $1.38 vs. $1.33 for the year. Penn expects 2009 revenue of $2.49 billion vs. the $2.47 billion Street consensus.

Penn took a pre-tax charge of $5 million due to a fire at its Joliet, Ill., property.

Penn National's Empress Casino Hotel was undergoing a $55 million renovation and was closed atfer a fire that started in a land-based pavilion of the casino barge.

"As a result, we recognized approximately $5 million of expense on a pre-tax basis which includes the insurance deductibles for property damage, business interruption and employee lost wages, as well as a write-off of construction fees related to the renovation that are not recoverable under our insurance policies."

The casino will reopen in the summer "with new interior finishes, 1,100 slots, 20 table games and several additional upgrades and amenities including a 250-seat buffet and high limit and VIP areas," the company said.

The Wyomissing, Pa.-based company ended the first quarter with approximately $738 million in cash and cash equivalents and total debt of $2.4 billion.

"As a result, we have several options available to us that we believe can enhance shareholder value, including acquiring gaming assets at attractive multiples, reducing outstanding debt or making further repurchases of our shares," Carlino said.

Penn, which does not operate in the major gaming capitals of Las Vegas and Atlantic City, runs 25,735 gaming machines and 374 table games, as well as 19 facilities in 15 jurisdictions including Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ontario.

But Penn's absence on the Las Vegas Strip could change soon, as Carlino keeps an eye on the debt troubles of MGM Mirage ( MGM) . he said in an email interview with Bloomberg earlier his week..

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