The Massachusetts Gaming Commission is hitting pause on sports betting as the regulator tasked with setting the rules for the state’s industry began reviewing its first application for a license. Members of the commission are raising red flags about the connections between the owners of Plainridge Park Casino in Plainville and Barstool Sports.
The commission met Tuesday to consider the first casino-based sports betting license application of three they received last month. Plainridge Park Casino is seeking to begin taking bets on professional and some college sports in late January.
But the application was met with stiff resistance by commissioners after it came to light that Penn Entertainment, parent of Plainridge Park Casino and the company that would operate the sports betting platform at the venue, recently bought a controlling interest in Barstool Sports. The firm has moved to fully acquire the company for $387 million, in a deal set to be completed early next year.
Through the partnership, Barstool has gotten its own sports betting app and branding inside Penn casinos. But the company was also the subject of a recent New York Times story highlighting the personal gambling issues of Barstool founder David Portnoy, who has also been previously accused of sexual misconduct. The brand’s push to appeal to a younger demographic has become a concern for state regulators.
Commission Chair Kathy Judd-Stein
Commission Chair Kathy Judd-Stein said at the meeting the regulator is “at crossroads right now because of the information that is presented to us,” The Boston Herald reported. According to Commissioner Nakina Skinner, “Barstool Sports is the elephant in the room."
Commissioners even noted that Penn Entertainment, when purchasing Barstool, disclosed that their association with the company and Portnoy may have a negative impact on their ability to do business. “None of the concerns we’re raising today are private in nature,” Judd-Stein said, and pointed out specifically to the Times’ reference to a visit Portnoy made in September to Knoxville, Tennessee for a University of Tennessee football game. Portnoy told the crowd he put “100 grand on Georgia."
“I am focused on not just the play at universities, but just the messaging around what I perceive to be the glorification of excessive gambling. I could be convinced, as I said, with data. How do we reconcile that with our programs?,” Judd-Stein said.
Commissioner Eileen O’Brien raised questions about the suitability of Barstool to be connected to sports betting in the state: “You’re gonna have a Barstool’-branded sports bar on the premises, according to the proposition that you guys are putting forward. And I’m concerned about some of the historical marketing associated with Barstool.”
The commission postponed a vote on granting the sports betting application to Plainridge Park to a later date. The casino could still receive approval given that, besides the issue with Barstool, Penn's presentation on responsible gaming was "excellent," according to Judd-Stein.
The state’s lawmakers approved legislation to legalize sports betting earlier this year, and regulators hope to make such betting a reality at the three properties in the jurisdiction before the Super Bowl next February. Other options, including mobile sports betting, could come in the weeks and months after.