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Gaming Commission Defers Vote on Massachusetts Sports Betting License

Robert Linnehan

by Robert Linnehan in Sports Betting News

Updated Dec 7, 2022 · 4:32 AM PST

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  • The Massachusetts Gaming Commission deferred a vote on its first retail sports betting application
  • After a nearly six-hour discussion, the Commission still has questions regarding responsible gaming issues
  • The Gaming Commission also shared concerns over PENN Entertainment’s relationship with Barstool Sports and Dave Portnoy during meeting

The first vote on a Massachusetts sports betting license will have to wait.

After a more than six-hour public meeting, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission deferred its vote on Plainridge Park Casino’s retail sports betting application to next week after questions arose regarding responsible gaming issues, the casino’s relationship with Penn Sports Interactive, and its parent company’s relationship with Barstool Sports.

Members of the Gaming Commission spent nearly two hours discussing a recent New York Times article written about Barstool Sports, founder Dave Portnoy, and parent company PENN Entertainment, which owns and operates Plainridge Park Casino, and how it pertains to the commission’s integrity and responsible gaming measures.

Barstool Sports Relationship Questioned

While the license vote was deferred until next week, the most telling moments of the meeting were during the Gaming Commission’s discussions over Plainridge Park Casino owner PENN Entertainment’s relationship with Barstool Sports.

Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy was the recent subject of a New York Times article in which Portnoy was described as a “degenerate gambler.” The company’s advertising tactics, that largely target colleges and younger demographics, were also questioned.

“Industry watchdogs say that Mr. Portnoy, perhaps more than anyone else in the United States, is encouraging recklessness among his legions of followers. Most are young men, a group that researchers have found is at especially high risk of problem gaming,” Emily Steel wrote in the Nov. 20 New York Times article.

The article and PENN Entertainment’s relationship with Barstool Sports stoked plenty of comments from Massachusetts Gaming Commissioners during the application hearing.

PENN Entertainment and Plainridge Park Casino have hitched themselves to the Barstool Sports brand, Commissioner Eileen O’Brien said, and this raises concerns over the integrity elements involved in the licensure process.

“To me, not delving into what that means in terms of suitability, honesty, and integrity of the applicant, I think it bears a discussion by this commission,” O’Brien said.

O’Brien’s comments were echoed by the other four members of the gaming commission.

On paper, the responsible gaming section of Plainridge Park Casino’s application is excellent, Gaming Commission Chair Cathy Judd-Stein said. However, the targeted population of Barstool Sports’ advertising and its messaging to individuals under the age of 21 may be problematic.

The Gaming Commission has taken a strong stance on limiting sports betting advertising to those 21 years of age or older as part of its integrity and responsible gaming goals. Judd-Stein noted several examples from the New York Times article as to how Barstool Sports may not be in line with this mission.

“We need to figure out how to reconcile this with the commission’s regulations,” she said.

Commissioner Nakisha Skinner also described the relationship between PENN Entertainment and Barstool Sports as the “elephant in the room” during the application discussion.

PENN Entertainment representatives attempted to assuage uneasiness among the commission over its relationship with Barstool Sports. Chris Soriano, VP, Chief Compliance Officer at PENN Entertainment, said PENN Entertainment has always been in compliance with the AGA’s Responsible Marketing Code and does not target advertising to individuals who are underage.

“Since we’ve become a part owner of Barstool, we’ve posed really strict compliance guardrails on what it is Barstool does,” Soriano said, in reference to responsible gaming.

Erin Chamberlin, VP of PENN Entertainment, said the company will continue to be dedicated to responsible gaming measures as it moves forward. She noted that Penn Sports Interactive was first U.S. company to receive the Responsible Gaming Council’s “RG Check.”

An agreement on the issue was not reached in public session. The Gaming Commission members concluded the meeting by moving into executive session to continue discussing advertising, responsible gaming, and sustainability issues related to Barstool Sports and Plainridge Park Casino’s license application.

Retail Sports Betting Plans

Earlier in the meeting, a Plainridge Park Casino representative presented plans for a Barstool Sportsbook branded retail sports betting space if approved for a retail license. It also tabbed Barstool Sportsbook, part of Penn Sports Interactive, as one of two online sports betting operator partners it will work with when online sports betting is launched in March.

North Grounsell, General Manager of Plainridge Park Casino, told the commission that a temporary sportsbook will be used when retail betting is launched in late January. It will include 18 automated sports betting kiosks and five teller windows.

Construction will begin on a multi-million dollar permanent sportsbook structure soon thereafter. The permanent sportsbook will be integrated into the space of a now-closed sports bar at the casino, he said.

“It will be a multi-million dollar capital investment to transform the existing Flutie’s (sports bar) space into a Massachusetts centered, fully integrated Barstool branded sportsbook and restaurant,” Grounsell said.

PENN Entertainment currently operates 43 properties in 20 states, including 25 retail sportsbooks, and operates online sports betting in 15 jurisdictions. In FY 2021, Grounsell noted that PENN Entertainment retail sportsbook took in more than $775 million in total handle, making it the second largest retail sports betting provider in the United States.

The retail sportsbook will feature 5,000 or more wagering markets for visitors across 45 men and women’s sports, including the NFL, MLB, NHL, MLS, WNBA, and NBA. Wagers on college sports will be permitted if they do not include a Massachusetts college.

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