The Massachusetts Gaming Commission held an adjudicatory hearing Wednesday, listening to Penn Sports Interactive lawyers defend Barstool Sportsbook’s promotion of “Big Cat’s Can’t Lose Parlay.”
No ruling was issued Wednesday on the operator’s marketing and terminology — a written ruling will be issued at a later date — but commissioners questioned the arguments offered by PSI representatives.
The issue stems from a March 12 parlay offered by Barstool Sportsbook just two days after legal mobile sports betting went live in Massachusetts. The parlay involved four bets on college basketball teams that were suggested on the site by Barstool Sports personality Dan Katz, who goes by “Big Cat.” Katz often refers to wagers as “can’t lose” bets in jest, but MGC commissioners questioned if the phrasing violated the state’s regulations that prohibit advertising bets as risk-free.
Commissioners were also concerned about Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy having tweeted a photo of himself wagering $13,000 on the four-leg parlay, suggesting it encouraged people to place bets on the wager — a potential regulatory violation.
Jonathan Albano, an attorney representing PSI, argued that the “can’t lose” language didn’t violate the state’s regulations for a few reasons. At the heart of Albano’s argument was that the MGC needed to focus on the context of the offering. In Albano’s view, any reasonable consumer would know that a four-leg parlay was not a bet devoid of risk.
“We respectfully submit that no reasonable person who saw a parlay with longshot odds that required a player to win not one, not two, not three, but four bets or lose the parlay … would’ve concluded that they were engaging in a risk-free, sure-thing type of bet,” Albano said.
Albano even argued that those who follow Katz, a well-known Barstool Sports personality with more than 1.5 million Twitter followers, understand that he’s a terrible bettor who pokes fun at his own inability to win bets consistently.
“The CLP is a humorous, satirical reference to Mr. Dan Katz’ reputation as an awful bettor,” Albano said.
Additional arguments from Albano cited numbers from other states, sharing that of a sample of about 120,000 “can’t lose” parlay bettors, 55% of them had made use of the promotion previously. Of that 55%, 90% lost their first “can’t lose” parlay. Albano argued that if those bettors truly believed the bets were without risk, they never would have wagered on the promotion again after the initial parlay lost.
Commissioners push back
Commissioners weren’t sold on Albano’s arguments, with some worrying that not everyone seeing the parlay would understand the satirical nature of the “can’t lose” wording.
“Is it fair to say potential wagerers of this parlay are not aware of the irony, because they do not follow the Barstool entertainment piece?” Commissioner Jordan Maynard asked.
Albano responded by saying “no reasonable person” would see a four-leg parlay and consider it risk free, but other commissioners had similar questions.
“What’s the appeal with the can’t lose language?” Commissioner Nakisha Skinner asked.
– PSI argues @BarstoolBigCat is well-known for being bad at gambling
– PSI argues “reasonable people” know “can’t lose parlay” is satirical language. It also won’t use the wording anymore
– Commissioners still seemed concerned about “can’t lose” wording https://t.co/LbSf2vrFWI
— Bennett Conlin (@BennettConlin) June 7, 2023
Maynard also questioned why Barstool Sportsbook had a pre-made “can’t lose” parlay available on the app when the customers could just make the parlay themselves, after hearing Katz suggest the bets on a show or social media.
Each side continued with similar arguments and questions for much of the two-hour meeting, with the MGC planning to issue a ruling about the promotion at a later date. PSI did commit to avoiding the “can’t lose” language in the future, while emphasizing that it doesn’t consider the phrase a regulatory violation.