PENN Sports Interactive got its initial approval to operate its Barstool Sportsbook platform in Massachusetts Wednesday, after a two-day meeting that ended with a list of five conditions the company must meet before it can go live. As with other applicants, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission grilled PENN executives about responsible gaming practices, advertising plans, and diversity, both within the company and for the suppliers and vendors it will contract with.
The MGC began its review of BetFanatics, which will be tethered to PENN’s Plainridge Park, Wednesday afternoon. It will begin review of non-tethered digital platforms Friday. Bally Bet, Betr, Betway, DraftKings, FanDuel, and PointsBet have all applied for stand-alone mobile licenses, and the review period is scheduled to run from Jan. 6-17, with announcements of which operators are approved coming Jan. 19-20.
Executives from PENN Entertainment who made the application presentation Tuesday and Wednesday were reminded repeatedly of the MGC’s concerns about the relationship of Barstool Sports to the company’s Barstool Sportsbook. PENN owns the Barstool Sportsbook platform and in February will complete a deal to bring Barstool Sports, the media entity created by Dave Portnoy, in house. Dating to its review of the Plainridge Park retail sportsbook application, the MGC has voiced concerns about Portnoy’s reputation and how Barstool Sports operates.
I don’t know what’s more scammish barstool in Massachusetts or Deflategate Brady.
— David Daniel (@DavidTheMan92) January 4, 2023
Here’s what PENN must do
Wednesday, the MGC laid down the following conditions for PENN:
- PENN must agree not to allow anyone under the age of 21 to enter live Barstool College Football Show events;
- PENN must “fully cooperate” with an Investigations and Enforcement Bureau deep dive into the company’s branding;
- PENN must provide diversity goals for its own workforce and those of suppliers;
- PENN must provide updates on ongoing investigations of its company and/or Barstool in Indiana and Illinois.
— Mike Amboian (@MikeAmbo5) January 4, 2023
PENN’s Benjie Levy initially pushed back on having to provide diversity goals, saying that other applicants were not required to do the same. But Commissioner Jordan Maynard forcefully responded, “We didn’t do it in places where the questions are answered. The question was asked in the application, and if it was sidestepped or not answered directly, then we asked for it.”
In fact, the MGC put similar requirements on Caesars Sportsbook and the retail Barstool book at Plainridge Park. Both Barstool and Caesars have open investigations for which the MGC is demanding updates. The only unique conditions for PENN are the first two.
The issue of banning consumers under 21 from attending a Barstool College Football Show arose following a New York Times article that pointed to an event in September at the University of Toledo, during which some in the audience were under the age of 21 while Portnoy was talking about a $100,000 bet on No. 1 Georgia to win the college football championship, and the show’s hosts were sharing information about pre-registration for the Barstool Sportsbook platform. The Ohio Casino Control Commission has since cited Barstool for an advertising and marketing violation that carries a fine of $250,000.
Diversity also a key issue
The condition around branding stems, in large part, from the commission’s concern that the Barstool brand does not comport with the MGC’s stringent integrity standards. During the review, Levy said that as of today, PENN reviews all of Barstool’s responsible gaming content, but when Barstool Sports “comes in house” next month, PENN will monitor all Barstool Sports content.
Commissioner Natasha Skinner also noted that she wanted to hear how PENN Sports Interactive would handle Barstool Sports once it is wholly owned by PENN, and she was particularly focused on diversity of staff and suppliers.
Throughout the review, PENN executives repeatedly told the MGC that it would stay in its lane, sharing that it will no longer use the phrase “risk-free” in any PENN or Barstool materials, and that “responsible gaming is not just about checking a box, it’s a core value.”