Caesars Sportsbook received preliminary approval for its digital platform Tuesday in Massachusetts, as did PENN Entertainment’s Plainridge Park Casino for its brick-and-mortar Barstool Sportsbook. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission still has concerns and laid down multiple conditions that each entity must meet before going live.
The Plainridge Park vote marked the final application review decision of the year, as the MGC decided to hold over a review of the Barstool Sportsbook digital platform until Jan. 3. Following that, it will review applications for stand-alone mobile applicants Bally Bet, Betr, Betway, DraftKings, FanDuel, and PointsBet.
The commission previously deemed Encore Boston Harbor and MGM Springfield preliminarily approved for retail operations and BetMGM and WynnBET for mobile operations. MGM Springfield and BetMGM both received approval Monday.
The MGC is aiming toward a late January go-live date for physical sportsbooks at the state’s three casinos and early March for both tethered and untethered digital platforms. Raynham Park and Suffolk Downs racetracks are also eligible for retail and digital operators, but they are on a different timeline.
PENN’s Snowden had to work for it
Initial approval for Plainridge Park was hard won, as the commission is clearly uncomfortable with parent company PENN Entertainment’s relationship with Barstool Sports. PENN previously purchased a 36% ownership stake in Barstool Sports and made it the brand for PENN’s sportsbook, in addition to relying on Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy and his colleagues at the brash sports media company to promote the sportsbook. PENN will complete a purchase of Barstool Sports in February 2023.
Tuesday’s review was a follow-up to a Dec. 7 meeting at which commission members expressed concerns about Portnoy, whom a recent New York Times story labeled as a “degenerate gambler,” in addition to questioning PENN’s responsible gaming program and commitment to integrity.
The Penn/Barstool fine in Ohio is a really big deal not just because of the violation and amount (250K is huge by US standards), but it's also the exact issue that Massachusetts regulators flagged during Penn's sports betting license hearing last week based on @NYTimes reporting.
— Matt Carey (@MattCareyGC) December 14, 2022
In a fit of poor timing for PENN Entertainment, Barstool Sportsbook was flagged by the Ohio Casino Control Commission last week for a potential $250,000 fine for violating rules governing advertising to those under the age of 21. Barstool Sports had organized an event at the University of Toledo on behalf of Barstool Sportsbook.
PENN CEO Jay Snowden said the violation was an honest mistake and that the company did not have a full understanding of how the OCCC defines the word “advertising.” Snowden acknowledged, however, that his company was at fault and will pay the fine. He further pledged to require that anyone participating in or gathering for future tapings of the Barstool College Football Show would need to be over the age of 21.
Snowden also pointed out that the company does not have any marketing relationships with colleges or universities in the U.S., and he pledged not to make any such deals in the future.
In response to the commission’s concerns about Portnoy and the commitment to integrity, Snowden leveraged PENN’s existing relationship regulated by the MGC through the Plainridge Park Casino. He asserted that while Barstool Sports may be edgy, younger, or possibly require reining in, that PENN will be final arbiter of decisions surrounding sports betting.
With the initial approval, commissioners will also require PENN and Barstool to “fully cooperate” with a deep-dive investigation of the businesses by the agency’s Investigations and Enforcement Bureau. Snowden readily accepted the conditions.
Happy Hannukah everyone! May this cold night be a bright one for those who celebrate, and bet on gelt wisely—Massachusetts sports betting doesn’t include Driedel-sports yet 😉
— Adam Bass (@AdamBassOfMass) December 19, 2022
Caesars addresses violations, college deals
Earlier in the meeting, the MGC revisited its review of the Caesars Sportsbook application. Last week, the commission said it was worried about past rules violations, the company’s responsible gaming program, and suitability. Jeff Hendricks returned on behalf of Caesars to answer questions in person, following the company’s submission of a written response.
In particular, commissioners pointed to relationships that Caesars has with Louisiana State University and Michigan State University. The commission batted around the idea of forbidding Caesars from “entering into contractual relationships” with Massachusetts colleges and universities, but ultimately decided that since it hadn’t put such stipulations on other applicants, it was inappropriate to single out Caesars. Hendricks said Caesars will comply with the MGC’s wishes, and it’s likely that the general issue will be revisited via regulation in January.
— Paul William Jr (@SchillisanASS_) December 20, 2022
Hendricks also addressed some regulatory violations involving Caesars’ pre-launch advertising and marketing in other states. He told the commission that “each of those items has been a lesson learned” and that the company has protocols in place to prevent future problems.
During the Caesars review, Commissioner Nakisha Skinner said she was “uncomfortable” with the process being taken to determine initial suitability and that the commission was “being substituted for the Investigations and Enforcement Bureau to make these preliminary suitability decisions.” The commission ultimately agreed that that is the framework the agency must work within, and that it was not appropriate to make changes midway through the first round of approvals.
Every approved application must meet a set of standard conditions, including getting an operating license before going live and being subject to a deeper suitability review.