Barstool Investigation Looms As Penn Casino Gets Massachusetts Sports Betting License

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Massachusetts sports betting

Penn Entertainment’s Boston-area casino has received a temporary retail Massachusetts sports betting license, allowing regulators to open an investigation into Barstool Sports.

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission unanimously voted to approve the temporary MA sports betting license for Plainridge Park Casino Tuesday, ending several days of back-and-forth over concerns around Penn’s controversial media asset. It is the third and final casino to win a retail Massachusetts sports betting license, but the only to be made temporary.

It allows the MGC’s Investigation and Enforcement Bureau to launch a “suitability review” into Barstool Sports, which Penn will fully own by February.

“What I am struggling with is marrying that brand with PPC’s sportsbook, which you have elected to brand Barstool, which you elected to do because it gave you the market share and everything else that came with Barstool Sports,” Commissioner Eileen O’Brien said.

She addressed her comments to Penn CEO Jay Snowden.

“You want this, we’re fine with this. Let’s come with language that we can all move forward with,” Snowden said. “As long as we get our temporary licenses, we can move forward with January and March launches.”

Barstool questions could affect sports betting license in Massachusetts

Many of the commission’s concerns stemmed from a recent The New York Times article, that painted Penn’s acquisition as a “desperate” double-down into “degenerate” gambling and harshly criticized Barstool Sports President Dave Portnoy:

Mr. Portnoy at times mocks the notion of gambling responsibly. He boasts that he typically wagers $25,000 a bet and as much as $500,000. He has encouraged fans to bet their “house, kids, family” on a single game. He has described gambling as “free money” and said it would be “wreckless” to not place a bet.

Snowden recited a letter sent to the MGC earlier this week, in which he questioned the motives behind the “factually inaccurate” story and defended Penn’s commitment to responsible gaming.

Ohio college advertising violation

Snowden fielded questions from commissioners over Barstool Sportsbook’s alleged violation of Ohio’s sports betting regulations in November, when the sportsbook promoted its upcoming launch during a live show at the University of Toledo.

“That’s on us,” Snowden said. “The mistake that was made in Ohio, we should have reviewed with Ohio regulators what our plan was that day. We were not there to promote the sportsbook, we were not there to promote betting.”

Penn was fined $250,000 for the violation, pending a possible appeal.

‘Meant to be funny’

Snowden urged commissioners to take into account Barstool’s history as a comedic brand and separate it from the casino’s eligibility for a Massachusetts sports betting license.

“It’s meant to be funny, it’s not meant to be pushing something viewed as ‘can’t lose,’” Snowden said of Dan “Big Cat” Katz’s weekly “can’t lose” parlay bets.

“He’s one of the worst gamblers in the world,” Snowden added.

Equity, legal concerns in Massachusetts sports betting

That did not fully satisfy commissioners, who spent several hours debating whether they could legally delay suitability review for Plainridge Park Casino when they declined to investigate online marketing brands in their approvals for Encore Boston Harbor and MGM Springfield.

“This is a (Category) 1 (retail) applicant being treated differently, while the other applicants have been awarded and won’t continue to have further investigation,” MGC Chair Cathy Judd-Stein said.

The MGC can review any business entities or persons working for an entity controlled by an applicant, under regulations governing the Massachusetts sports betting bill signed into law by former Gov. Charlie Baker in August.

Commissioners did not indicate when they expect the IEB to complete its report, but seemed to suggest it would be before casinos begin retail sports betting sometime before the Super Bowl in early February.

Suitability for Penn Interactive, which opreators Barstool Sportsbook, was tabled for after the holidays, when Judd-Stein hopes commissioners “will have clear heads” and have gathered more information on Barstool Sports, the media brand.