Plainridge Park Casino was green-lighted for a temporary Massachusetts sportsbook license Tuesday after hours of debate about parent company Penn Entertainment’s relationship to Barstool Sports.
The Boston-area racino plans to open a Barstool-branded retail sportsbook in time for the Super Bowl. Today’s approval of the casino’s Massachusetts sports betting application by the state’s Gaming Commission will allow those plans to move forward.
But that approval came with several conditions – a couple stemming from Penn Entertainment’s ownership of the casino and Barstool Sportsbook.
At the end of the day, the MGC voted unanimously to find Plainridge Park Casino suitable for a temporary license with the two added conditions: that the casino restrict any Barstool live show hosted at the property to those age 21 and older, and that Barstool Sports Inc. be considered a factor in approval of the casino’s retail license.
Barstool has faced negative press in recent weeks, including last week’s news of the sportsbook’s alleged violation of Ohio rules against advertising and marketing to those under 21 stemming from at a tailgate show at the University of Toledo on Nov. 15. A Nov. 20 expose of founder David Portnoy by The New York Times has been a double whammy.
Retail Licensing Conditions Urged by O’Brien
Questions about the sportsbook’s branding and responsible gaming tactics dominated today’s hearing after Commissioner Eileen O’Brien revisited concerns she flagged with Barstool’s reputation at a meeting in early December.
O’Brien was the first commissioner to raise concerns with Barstool in a prior hearing on Dec. 6 where she cited the Times story about Portnoy.
Today O’Brien questioned whether the Barstool brand has the “character, and reputation and honesty,” required to find a sportsbook suitable in Massachusetts, citing past incidents and news coverage.
O’Brien made it clear to Penn Entertainment CEO Jay Snowden – who was present for today’s hearing – that she wanted conditions put on licensing for Plainridge Park Casino due to the casino’s joint branding with Barstool under Penn Entertainment going back to 2021.
“I raised the fact (in the Dec. 6 hearing) that tying your brand to that brand brought in the good, bad, and the ugly that came with that brand,” said O’Brien. “And I still have that concern.”
“This is not just about Portnoy,” she added.
Barstool Still in Running for Mobile Sports Betting License
Snowden countered any MGC criticism about Barstool Sportsbook (soon to be wholly owned by Penn Entertainment) by telling the commission that the sportsbook is made up of “great people” who “care about Massachusetts.”
But Snowden admitted that the company has made mistakes.
Responding to questions about the Ohio allegations, Snowden said they stem from a Barstool event near the University of Toledo football stadium on game day on Nov. 15. During the event, from which the Barstool Tailgate Show was broadcast, Snowden said Barstool Sportsbook’s plans to go live upon Ohio’s sports betting launch on Jan. 1 were mentioned publicly. He called the incident a “mistake.”
The Ohio Casino Control Commission has notified Barstool that it intends to fine the company at least $250,000 in connection to the incident for allegedly breaking the state’s rules against advertising to persons under 21, and advertising its sportsbook near a college campus.
“We were not there to promote the sportsbook.” Snowden said. “We were not there to promote betting. What we did, and it was a mistake, was mention that we were going to go live on Jan. 1. If we had not made that mistake, I think the show would have been fine.”
Snowden said he believes Plainridge Park Casino has proven itself suitable for a temporary retail sports betting license. But he made no secret about Penn Entertainment’s intention to still seek a mobile license for Barstool as well.
The casino has partnered with both Barstool and Fanatics for mobile sports betting, which is expected to launch in the state in early March.
Each mobile license is vetted separately, with no guarantee that either app will be approved. But Snowden seemed undaunted about Barstool’s chances – even with the recent negative press.
“Headlines are one thing, and what you do is something different,” he told the MGC on Tuesday.