With conditions attached

Massachusetts: Barstool secures preliminary approval for temporary mobile sports betting license

Reading time 2:27 min

Penn Sports Interactive, which operates the Barstool Sportsbook brand, has received preliminary approval from the Massachusetts Gaming Commission for a temporary mobile sports betting license, following a suitability review. 

The final vote was carried unanimously on Wednesday, but conditions were placed on the sports and entertainment brand. Barstool is owned by Penn Sports Interactive, the online sports betting and casino gaming arm of Penn Entertainment, which also owns and operates Plainridge Park Casino

“Barstool Sportsbook has shown by substantial evidence that they have satisfied the criteria set forth in general,” read Commissioner Eileen O’Brien in making the motion, adding also that the approval is still just for “preliminary suitability," as reported by Boston.com

In-person sports betting will go live in the state on January 31, with Encore Boston Harbor, Plainridge Park Casino, and MGM Springfield already approved for temporary Category 1 retail sports betting licenses. 

Penn Entertainment, which owns a portion of Barstool sports, and will reportedly take full ownership in February, applied via PSI for a Category 3 mobile sports wagering operator license tethered to Plainridge Park Casino. Mobile sports betting in the Bay State is expected to go live in March.

The conditions imposed on PSI include making sure to bar anyone under 21 from the Barstool Football College Show events; cooperating fully with the MGC’s Investigation and Enforcement Bureau; and providing specific diversity goals on their supplier spending and workforce.

The process of Barstool Sportsbook being granted preliminary approval was tricky, with the final result being the conditions attached to the approval. As O’Brien explained, PSI will cooperate “without limitation” in an investigation conducted by IEB into the “branding efforts of Barstool Sports Inc., in connection with the branding of Penn and PSI." 

During previous sessions, several MGC commissioners expressed reservations about Barstool Sports, and specifically its founder, Dave Portnoy. “When we talk about Mr. Portnoy putting out all this money or losing, some of the comments he’s made in the past fly in the face of responsible gaming,” MGC commissioner Brad Hill said during a December hearing on Plainridge Park Casino’s temporary Category 1 license application.

The comments were made in reaction to a New York Times piece from November 2022, which chronicled Portnoy’s extensive gambling losses and self-professed status as a “degenerate gambler”. The casino was eventually granted temporary approval, though similar conditions regarding a further IEB investigation were imposed.

Commissioners pointed to additional incidents regarding Barstool Sports, which was originally founded by Portnoy in Massachusetts. One was a $250,000 fine that Penn Entertainment paid after the Ohio Gaming Control Commission cited Barstool Sportsbook for violating its regulations in November. 

Another occurred in 2021 when Penn paid a $10,000 fine from the Indiana Gaming Commission over a “questionable” TikTok posted by a Barstool Sports employee describing gambling losses. 

Penn Entertainment executive Michael West assured that the company is aware of these mistakes and owns them. “We own those mistakes. We’ve learned from them. And we strive to continue to be an industry leader in responsible gaming,” he told commissioners, as reported by Boston.com.

Sports betting was officially legalized in Massachusetts in the final moments of the state’s 2022 legislative session. However, much of the responsibility for its implementation was turned over to the MGC to build a regulatory framework. 

The current MGC process has granted temporary licenses in the hope of speeding up the rollout of legalized sports betting, with an official granting of full licenses potentially coming after an additional IEB review.

The state regulator has now approved or “found suitable” four mobile operators for temporary Category 3 licenses including PSI: WynnBET, BetMGM, and Caesars Sportsbook.  

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