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Massachusetts Gaming Regulators Have Questions About ESPN BET

Robert Linnehan

by Robert Linnehan in Sports Betting News

Updated Nov 14, 2023 · 1:47 PM PST

ESPN Monday Night Football Countdown set SoFi Stadium
Oct 16, 2023; Inglewood, California, USA; From left: Scott Van Pelt, Robert Griffin III, Marcus Spears and Ryan Clark on the ESPN Monday Night Football Countdown set SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
  • The Massachusetts Gaming Commission said it still does not have enough information on the planned Penn rebrand to ESPN BET
  • Questions remain about ESPN programming and on-air personalities discussing sports betting
  • Gaming commission has scheduled a meeting with PENN in early November to discuss concerns

ESPN BET is scheduled to launch next month, but it may face delays in Massachusetts if gaming regulators do not receive answers to their lingering questions.

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission today discussed their concerns regarding PENN Entertainment’s planned rebrand of Barstool Sportsbook to ESPN BET next month. Commissioners were wary of what they perceived to be a lack of answers coming to PENN Entertainment regarding some of their questions about the new partnership with ESPN.

The MGC and PENN Entertainment will meet in early November to discuss the commissions concerns and hopefully clear a pathway for its Massachusetts sports betting launch next month.

Nothing Coming from PENN

Commissioner Nakisha Skinner noted her frustration that nothing about the deal and potential rebranding was coming to the gaming commission directly from PENN Entertainment, but mostly from media reports.

“I think this process seems to be a little bit backwards. I am not aware that we have gotten anything from PENN Entertainment relative to what they are proposing here. We’ve spoken to them about this in very general terms. There’s a lot of media attention to this deal, but everything I know about what is proposing to happen here has not really come from PENN Entertainment. That’s a disadvantage for us as a commission, because we don’t know where to start,” Skinner said.

It’s a disadvantage because PENN has not come to the commission with a concrete plan of the rebranding to ESPN BET, MGC Chair Cathy Judd-Stein said. It’s difficult to understand the relationship between the two entities, she said, and more information is necessary.

The commission needs answers on what PENN Entertain and ESPN plans to do about the ESPN College Gameday Football show, how ESPN on-air personalities will deal with discussing sports betting, and how the sports betting app will be branded, Commission Eileen O’Brien said.

“We mentioned the college football show, and we need to know how they’ll be drawing lines. You cannot have someone who obviously works for the entity and that is also recommending certain bets that will be on their platforms. This is something PENN navigated with Barstool and I’m interested in getting more information on the new branding relationship with ESPN BET,” she said.

PENN and Barstool Sports agreed to take specific measures to limit only individuals 21 years of age or older to attend any Barstool Sports College Football shows. Advertisements from this newly minted sportsbook will be scrutinized as they look to offer an ESPN BET promo code to new customers.

November Meeting Scheduled with PENN

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission agreed to seek an early November meeting with PENN Entertainment to discuss these concerns before its scheduled launch to ESPN BET later in the months.

MGC Counsel Caitlan Monahan said the commission does not have to allow the rebrand in the commonwealth until it’s satisfied with their answers.

Commissioner Jordan Maynard said it was important to hold ESPN accountable in the same way the commission held Barstool accountable during the initial application process.

“I will hold ESPN to the same standards as I held Barstool during the application process…but just because ESPN is big, and is a behemoth, it doesn’t mean I won’t hold them to the same standard I did Barstool. I want to see how PENN is thinking about this relationship swap. It’s not as easy as taking one name off and putting another on,” Maynard said.

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