After a bumpy regulatory ride, Barstool Sportsbook appears headed for the Massachusetts mobile sports betting market when it opens in early March.
The Penn Interactive-owned sportsbook today was found preliminarily suitable by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission for a temporary mobile sportsbook license tethered to Plainridge Park Casino outside of Boston. Both PPC and Barstool Sportsbook are owned by parent company PENN Entertainment, which is expected to formally request the temporary license from state regulators in coming weeks.
The MGC told Gaming Today in an email Tuesday that the commission approved the form required to request a temporary license on Dec. 29. As of Tuesday afternoon, none of the tethered mobile sportsbooks that have been found suitable for temporary licensure by the MGC had requested a license.
As a condition of temporary licensure, the MGC voted today to require that Penn Interactive follow five rules:
- Prevent anyone under age 21 from attending live Barstool College Football show events;
- Fully cooperate with an MGC staff investigation into Barstool Sports Inc. as it relates to branding;
- Keep MGC staff updated on matters discussed in closed session with the MGC (IL complaint);
- Provide the MGC with company goals for diversity hiring and;
- Provide the MGC with company goals for diversity spending.
Barstool is the fourth mobile sportsbook tied to a casino that has been approved for a Massachusetts sports betting license so far. The other three are BetMGM (MGM Springfield), WynnBET, and Caesars Sportsbook (both Encore Boston Harbor). WynnBET will operate under a full mobile license while BetMGM, Caesars, and Barstool Sportsbook will operate under temporary licenses.
Fanatics is the last mobile sportsbook tethered to a casino expected to be licensed by the MGC before launch in March. Like Barstool, Fanatics would operate as a partner of PPC. Approval for temporary licensing of Fanatics could happen as soon as tomorrow.
Retail sports betting will launch in Massachusetts on Jan. 31. Mobile sports betting is expected to launch in the state in early March, with an exact date pending.
Penn Interactive’s Path to Mobile Sports Betting License in Mass. Full of ‘Starts and Stops’
Today’s vote by the MGC followed a month of starts and stops for approval of Penn Interactive/Barstool Sportsbook as both a retail and mobile betting partner for PPC. Approval of the retail sportsbook came on Dec 20 after a two-week wait for action following concerns with the Barstool brand voiced by some commissioners on Dec. 6.
The Dec. 6 vote was delayed after Commissioner Eileen O’Brien and then other commissioners raised questions about the reputation of the company and its founder Dave Portnoy – both the subjects of a scathing Nov. 20 New York Times article titled “Desperate for Growth, Aging Casino Company Embraced ‘Degenerate Gambler.”
O’Brien later told PENN Entertainment CEO Jay Snowden on Dec. 20 that her concerns with the Barstool brand go back to at least 2021, when PPC began joint branding with Barstool under Penn Entertainment. She said she had raised concerns about “the good, bad, and the ugly that came with that brand” on Dec. 6, adding, “(and) I still have that concern.”
O’Brien raised questions about a 2021 TikTok post made by a Barstool employee that led to fines against the company by Indiana sports betting regulators.
“My understanding is some of the language that went up was over the line,” O’Brien said when asking PENN Interactive about the incident on Tuesday.
Penn Interactive official Chris Soriano did not repeat the language that was posted on TikTok, but did say that it went against Penn Interactive’s “compliance guardrails” for appropriate conduct.
Questions were also raised Tuesday about an incident involving a Barstool complaint filed in Illinois. No details about the incident were made public during the MGC’s hearings today or Tuesday. However, Penn Interactive is required to keep the MGC updated on the complaints as a condition for licensure.
Last month in Ohio, state regulators accused Barstool of violating rules against advertising and marketing to persons under age 21 at a college tailgate show in November. A hearing on those alleged violations is expected this month.
Penn Interactive: ‘Guardrails’ in Place for Barstool
To put the MGC at ease, Penn Interactive officials told the MGC on Tuesday that it takes responsible gaming seriously. Penn Interactive’s Michael West said the company trains every Barstool Sports employee on what is appropriate and what is not, so they are aware of the “guardrails” mentioned by Soriano.
Barstool’s compliance efforts require that its audience meet or exceed the legal betting age. Also required is incorporation of the national gambling addiction hotline (1-800-Gambler) into Barstool content, and transparency about what West called Barstool on-air personalities’ “lack of expertise.”
‘They do not hide from their gambling losses and they are transparent with their audience on their success, or lack thereof,” said West.
As far as its application for licensing goes, MGC Investigative Bureau Director Loretta Lillios told the five-member commission on Tuesday that there are “no substantial deficiencies” in Penn Interactive’s application for a temporary mobile license tied to PPC.
“The only deficiency is that we are waiting for some IRS tax transcripts. The applicant has requested those, and that’s not uncommon that we would have to wait in due course for the IRS to provide them,” said Lillios.
Licensing of Untethered Massachusetts Mobile Applicants Coming Up
Seven mobile sports betting licenses not tied to a casino or racino in Massachusetts are allowed under the state’s 2022 sports betting law. Only six companies had applied for a license by the Nov. 21 deadline.
Hearings on the standalone mobile applications are currently scheduled for Jan. 9-11, 13, and 17-19, all beginning at 10 a.m. ET. An additional meeting is also scheduled for 1 p.m. ET on Jan. 12.