ESPN Bet Gains MA Sports Betting Regulator Approval

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ESPN Bet is officially cleared to join the Massachusetts sports betting market next week.

Massachusetts sports betting regulators approved ESPN Bet for a November 14 launch after a lengthy discussion Tuesday with licensee PENN Entertainment. Massachusetts is one of several states where PENN is relaunching its online sportsbook under the ESPN brand, after selling Barstool back to founder Dave Portnoy earlier this year.

Tuesday’s 90-minute discussion centered on PENN’s relationship with its new partner.

Different scrutiny for third-party sportsbook

Regulators asked to review documents related to ESPN’s involvement in promoting the online sportsbook, including what on-air talent is permitted to say and guidelines for responsible gaming.

Massachusetts is the only state where PENN has had to testify before regulators before rebranding its app.

“I’m concerned that we are being questioned because we have a media partner, but this is an industry-wide issue,” PENN Chief Strategy Officer Chris Rogers said during Tuesday’s meeting.

Regulator pushback on ESPN Bet questions

Commission Eileen O’Brien said Penn’s decision to use a third party as the face of its brand, unlike the rest of the Commonwealth’s sportsbooks, makes it unique.

“You’re not being treated different than a similarly situated license. I think you are a licensee who is situationally different because of the branding you chose to do,” O’Brien said. “You guys are tethering yourselves to another pre-existing brand. This is a little different and a little more pointed. How do you keep ESPN Bet separate in a way that’s obvious to the consumer?”

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission is set to vote on house rules for ESPN Bet on Wednesday and review guidelines on December 14. Those guidelines have not been fully developed yet. PENN employees will be forbidden from using the app, while ESPN will have no involvement with odds or trading teams, Rogers said.

ESPN Bet faces similar inquiries as Barstool

Penn underwent a similar process last year when it applied for a Massachusetts license for Barstool Sportsbook.

During that process, commissioners discussed fines Penn was charged with in Ohio, where Barstool promoted the sportsbook on college campuses.

Rogers assured commissioners that ESPN Bet branding will only be allowed at events where at least 75% of the audience is 21 or older. ESPN live shows at college campuses, such as College Gameday, will feature no ESPN Bet promotion whatsoever, he added.

ESPN is expected to reveal more details about the partnership during a conference at its New York Seaport studio location on Thursday.