Penn license decision delayed by Massachusetts over Barstool controversy

December 6, 2022 Massachusetts State Flag - Casino Genie

As Massachusetts prepares to become the next state to open up sports betting platforms, there is considerable excitement and speculation over how the process will unfold. It is, at present, expected that there will be provision for betting on sports in the state by the time of Super Bowl LVII in early February, and the state is in the process of granting licenses to sports betting providers. But the decision on one such provider, Penn Entertainment, has been delayed in the wake of controversy over the provider’s online betting partner.

That partner, Barstool Sportsbook, is no stranger to controversy due to its links with the noted media outlet Barstool Sports. Founded in Massachusetts, Barstool runs a number of blogs covering sports and culture, and has gained a reputation as an edgy source of opinion pieces with an emphasis on political incorrectness. That reputation, while beneficial for a blog stable that thrives on clicks and public attention, has proven to be a complicating factor for its related sportsbook brand.

The primary concern of the Massachusetts Gambling Commission, which is responsible for issuing licenses in the state, is that the Barstool name has some associations that could make it an inappropriate partner for a state-licensed betting imprint. The focal point of this concern seems to relate to a tailgate party held in Knoxville, TN in November at a college football game. The event included corporate sponsorship from a company providing alcoholic beverages, and raised the spectre of a company promoting gambling and drinking to an audience of college students.

Representatives of Penn Entertainment were at pains to point out that the event was specifically hosted by Barstool Sports – the media outlet – as opposed to the sportsbook element of the business. They also underlined that the tailgate party was aimed not at existing Tennessee students, but at alumni from the school who make up a significant section of the football team’s support base. It was, however, enough of a concern to the MGC that they did not, as expected, rubber-stamp the application from Penn, and have decided to look further into the association between Penn and the various sections of Barstool.

Other concerns were raised at the meeting relating to the founder of Barstool Sports, Massachusetts native Dave Portnoy. Portnoy has cultivated a reputation as something of an anti-hero, with public views that have made him a prominent media figure on a national level. Those views, often considered to be aimed at offending social justice activists, have been thrown into sharp relief in recent months by legal allegations against Portnoy, whose public profile may now be considered to be an unfortunate association for a company seeking to prove its legitimacy as a service provider.

Meanwhile, the sportsbook company BetMGM was also frustrated in its early attempts to gain a Massachusetts license for more technocratic reasons. BetMGM supplied licensing officials with details of their online sportsbook rather than offering a look at their retail plans, which conflicted with advice coming from the MGC. Their application will be revisited, and likely granted, when the MGC has had a chance to survey the retail plans.

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