Massachusetts Grants Barstool Preliminary Mobile Sports-Betting License

January 5, 2023
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After several weeks of expressing concerns about its Barstool Sports affiliation, Massachusetts regulators ultimately gave Penn Sports Interactive a conditional green light Wednesday to move forward with its online sports-betting platform in the state.

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After several weeks of expressing concerns about its Barstool Sports affiliation, Massachusetts regulators ultimately gave Penn Sports Interactive a conditional green light on Wednesday (January 4) to move forward with its online sports-betting platform in the state.

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) found Penn Sports Interactive, the online gaming arm of Penn Entertainment, preliminarily suitable for a temporary online sports-betting license, which could allow the company to launch the Barstool Sportsbook platform as early as March.

The commission did attach similar conditions to the online license as it did to the retail license for the Penn-owned Plainridge Park Casino last month, following a defense of the Barstool product and embattled Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy before the commission by Penn CEO Jay Snowden.

Those conditions include a requirement that nobody under the age of 21 be admitted to live broadcasts of the “Barstool College Football Show,” as well as requiring full cooperation with an investigation of Barstool Sports by the commission’s Investigations and Enforcement Bureau and requiring the company to comply with diversity goals for workforce and supplier spend.

The Ohio Casino Control Commission (OCCC) recently proposed fining Penn $250,000 for advertising violations by Barstool Sportsbook for promoting sports betting on the University of Toledo’s campus.

Some of the more controversial issues the Massachusetts Gaming Commission expressed concerns about, such as questions regarding a problematic TikTok post for which Barstool was fined $10,000 by Indiana gaming regulators and pending litigation in Illinois, were discussed in a private executive session.

However, Penn executives did make several commitments during the public portions of Wednesday's meeting, including to furthering a paid social media campaign focused on responsible gaming.

“We're going to continue to invest resources in both the creation of responsible gaming content and how we amplify that on social media,” said Benjie Levy, head of Penn Interactive. “The initial trial was to see if it was impactful, and we did like the results and we’re going to continue that.

“Since we started the campaign to amplify, we have seen an uptick in usage of RG tools, which to us is a sign that it’s working.”

In addition, the company pledged to no longer use the term “risk-free” in any of its marketing going forward, both in Massachusetts and other jurisdictions.

“To further illustrate Penn and Penn Interactive’s commitment to grow and evolve as responsible gaming practices, Penn will not use the term risk free in any retail or online sports wagering marketing materials targeting the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” said Samantha Haggerty, deputy chief compliance officer for Penn.

“In fact, to demonstrate our commitment to responsible advertising and gaming, and after hearing the concerns of the MGC, and those of other jurisdictions where we operate, the term risk free has been removed from all Penn gambling marketing materials.”

The Barstool Sportsbook application now refers to initial promotions as a “new player bonus” that is paid out if a player loses their first bet.

Next on the busy licensing agenda for the Massachusetts Gaming Commission is the license application of Fanatics Betting and Gaming, a subsidiary of the sports merchandise retailer Fanatics, which is the other mobile sportsbook applicant tethered to the Plainridge Park property.

Fanatics Betting and Gaming began its presentation to the commission Wednesday afternoon and will continue to make its case on Thursday (January 5).

To date, the sports retail giant has obtained betting licenses in Ohio and Maryland but has yet to launch any product or even display what the platform will look like, although it did give the five-member Massachusetts commission a look during a private executive session.

So far, the MGC has awarded licenses to each of the state’s three retail casinos, as well as online licenses for BetMGM, Caesars Sportsbook, and WynnBET.

Retail sports betting at the state’s three land-based casinos is set to begin on January 31, with mobile wagering scheduled to begin in March, although no specific date has been set.

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