You know, I wish I was fluent in the rules and language of poker -- that way, I could come up with some nifty, pun-laden metaphor concerning Shuffle Master's (NASDAQ:SHFL) fall from grace during yesterday's session. (Insert joke about about blinds/rivers/flops here.)

Shuffle Master expects much lower profits for its first quarter. In the preliminary-results press release, the company indicated that revenue growth is very vague at the moment -- it'll come in somewhere between 5% and 14%, so start placing your bets now. As for the bottom line, I'll quote from the release: "Net income and earnings per share are expected to be significantly lower than the same prior-year period." Don't you just love specificity?

So, what the heck happened? A lot of things, according to Shuffle Master's depressing bullet list. The acquisition of Stargames continues to put pressure on operating costs; in addition, some Stargames products aren't doing as well as they maybe should have, and the margins on them won't be great. Shuffle Master was banking on a line of multi-electronic tables to hit North American markets, but approval delays have tempered these plans. Lifetime license sales of proprietary tables are suffering, interest expenses are up, and there was a termination of an agreement relating to a transaction involving Stargames slots and tables in Asia. Oh, and did I mention the sky was falling, too?

Actually, the sky was okay yesterday -- it's just stocks that were feeling gravity's wrath. Even though the market as a whole saw a hellacious day of selling, the kind not seen in a while, I can't defend Shuffle Master just on that macro basis. Sure, the economies around the globe might be having issues, but Shuffle Master has legitimate problems. Its strategic plans do seem to be unraveling, and although some of yesterday's 14%-plus drop in the share price might be attributable to the overall negative sentiment sweeping the Street, this was mostly a fundamental issue.

What should shareholders (or potential shareholders) make of the Shuffle Master situation? Well, to begin with, the company has had some weak quarters in the past year; coupling them with the current horrible preliminary results is obviously quite disconcerting. The drop in top-line expansion is especially troubling, since Shuffle Master was doing okay in that area, even as the bottom line was being rocked by the Stargames acquisition. Shareholders now have to decide if the setbacks as discussed in yesterday's earnings debacle are short-term or long-term.

I'm definitely more bearish on the company today than I was yesterday, but I have not given up the bull's hope yet. Gambling is an industry that will be around forever, and there is no indication that Shuffle Master is no longer relevant to that industry. Could this be a long-term buying opportunity? I think there is definitely a case to be made here for further due diligence. Shuffle Master's management received a kick in the pants yesterday; assuming it (hopefully) got the message, it presumably will change course and do what it needs to do to bring some of the company's former glory back.

Nevertheless, I wouldn't act like those chip-slinging poker stars you see on TV. Don't try and call the market's bluff by going all in now that the shares touched a new 52-week low -- at least wait for the stock to settle down. Shuffle Master, like International Game Technology (NYSE:IGT), Bally Technologies (NYSE:BYI), and PokerTek (NASDAQ:PTEK), should prosper over time from the gambling industry, but getting in at a reasonable price is requisite. It's difficult to come up with a valuation for the company since the fundamentals are in such flux and since there is an abundance of uncertainty over revenue and earnings growth -- again, I'd refrain from putting new money to work until the full earnings release is made in March.

But I counsel investors to keep an open mind about Shuffle Master as an investment idea. It's a scary time for the once-proud growth stock, but my gut tells me it will probably come back after it reassesses its priorities. Keep it handy on a watch list.

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Fool contributor Steven Mallas owns none of the companies mentioned. As of this writing, he was ranked 13,575 out of 23,510 investors in the CAPS system. Don't know what CAPS is? Check it out. The Fool has a disclosure policy.