As our economy alternates between growing and sputtering, some industries, such as pharmaceuticals, remain relatively steady in the face of downturns. If you have high cholesterol, you're not likely to skimp on the Lipitor you get from Pfizer (NYSE:PFE), however the latest unemployment report reads.

Few industries really boom during downturns. The best most can hope for is to lose less than other industries, or less than the overall market. These include food retailers (think Campbell Soup (NYSE:CPB)), tobacco firms like Philip Morris International (NYSE:PM), and drink makers like Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO). One exception is the gold industry, which has roughly tripled over the past decade, and more than doubled in the past five.

These defensive industries make sense, although they don't always reflect sensible decisions by consumers. When the economy sputters, people put off buying cars and dishwashers, but they'll treat themselves to a soda and a cigarette. They'll see stocks swooning and think gold is better -- even though it's usually not.

The gaming industry also tends to spike during economic low points. People feel desperate at times like these, and they grasp at straws. The gaming industry reportedly saw revenue rise some 3.7% in 2007, to more than $93 billion. That's about $300 per American! And although the slowing economy has hurt revenues in gambling centers like the Vegas Strip, lottery sales are still jumping, setting records in more than 20 states. In North Carolina, over the past year or so, lottery sales surged 25%. Maryland revenues have recently risen 6%, and Colorado is up 8%, Massachusetts 7%, and Minnesota 9%.

What to do with this info
As an investor, you need to check your instincts with real research. If you're now wondering whether gaming stocks are doing well in the way of 2007's revenue rise, a quick look at some recent returns suggests quite the opposite:

Company

1-Year Return

International Game Technology (NYSE:IGT)

(60.0%)

Scientific Games (NASDAQ:SGMS)

(37.7%)

Wynn Resorts (NASDAQ:WYNN)

(40.8%)

Source: Yahoo! Finance.

So whether it's playing the lotto or buying into gaming stocks, don't look to gambling as a surefire solution to your financial woes. Expect volatility in the market. Look for opportunities in it, even, and embrace the bear market.

To learn about stocks that can weather the downturn, turn to Fool co-founders David and Tom Gardner and their Motley Fool Stock Advisor newsletter. A free trial will give you full access to all past issues. It regularly offers recommendations of promising stocks and mutual funds, too.

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of Coca-Cola. Pfizer is a Motley Fool Income Investor selection. Pfizer and Coca-Cola are Motley Fool Inside Value recommendations. Try our investing newsletters free for 30 days. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.