Penn Entertainment Boss Defends Barstool Brand Before Massachusetts Regulators

December 21, 2022
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Penn Entertainment CEO Jay Snowden mounted a vigorous defense of the company's Barstool Sportsbook betting brand before the Massachusetts Gaming Commission on Tuesday and heavily criticized a New York Times series that took aim at Barstool founder Dave Portnoy.

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Penn Entertainment CEO Jay Snowden mounted a vigorous defense of the company's Barstool Sportsbook betting brand before the Massachusetts Gaming Commission on Tuesday (December 20) and heavily criticized a New York Times series that took aim at Barstool founder Dave Portnoy.

The five-member commission found Penn’s Plainridge Park Casino temporarily suitable for a retail sports-betting license after deferring action on the license last week amid concerns over Barstool and responsible gaming questions that surround the media brand.

Snowden submitted a letter to the commission last week and on Tuesday appeared before regulators as he sought to distinguish between Barstool Sportsbook’s operations and the Barstool Sports media brand.

“To be clear, neither David Portnoy nor anyone else at Barstool has any control or decision making authority over the operations of either the retail or online operations of Barstool Sportsbook,” Snowden said.

“All decisions, directions, and influence over the operations of sports betting are made entirely by Penn team members who are authorized to do so and are licensed to do so as required,” he continued. “Barstool is solely Penn's media and marketing partner and will continue to operate as such once Penn acquires 100 percent of Barstool in February 2023.”

Snowden also defended Portnoy against some of the criticism he has received from regulators, as well as from various media outlets including the New York Times and Business Insider.

“I'll be the first to admit that his personality and style of humor is not for everyone as would he; he has said and done things in his life that he regrets and nor would do or say differently today,” Snowden said of the Barstool Sports co-founder.

“I'm sure the same would apply to the marketing partners and promotional spokespeople for the other applicants in Massachusetts who have received their fair share of negative press for past actions, quotes, jokes, and behavior.”

Snowden added that despite the myriad of stories about Portnoy’s personal conduct, Penn is not aware of any law enforcement investigations nor any criminal or civil litigation against Portnoy related to said conduct.

Snowden also took aim at the recent New York Times investigative series, saying the company was “disappointed by the number of misrepresentations and factual inaccuracies contained therein” and criticizing the “sensationalized nature” of the reporting.

“Much of the media criticism about David Portnoy, including the New York Times article, attempts to paint him as a misogynist or racist,” Snowden said. “If Mr. Portnoy were those things, I can assure you, Penn would never have partnered with him.”

Snowden also addressed the company’s recent $250,000 pending fine in Ohio over a promotion of the Barstool Sportsbook during an episode of the Barstool College Football Show that was held on the campus of the University of Toledo.

The advertising violated Ohio regulations against advertising on or near a college campus, and the Barstool College Football Show’s relation to gambling was one of the specific concerns expressed by Massachusetts commissioners at the previous hearing on Penn’s license last week concerning the distinction between the media brand and the sportsbook operation.

“We screwed up in Ohio, and we’ll pay the price, which is a hefty fine,” Snowden said. “I’m not happy about that. We’ve had very direct conversations about it internally at Penn, and I can assure you that will not happen in Massachusetts.”

Snowden said the company made a mistake by not reviewing its plan with state regulators prior to the event.

“We were not there to promote the sportsbook,” Snowden said. “We were not there to promote betting.”

“What we did, and it was a mistake, was mention that we were going to be going live on January 1, not thinking that that was full advertising,” he continued. “Again, that's our fault, we own up to our mistakes.”

Ultimately, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission agreed to issue the temporary land-based sports wagering license to Penn's Plainridge Park Casino with two conditions, both related to Barstool Sports.

The first is requiring that nobody under the age of 21 is permitted to enter live Barstool College Football Show events. Snowden said during his remarks that following previous comments from the commission, the company had already decided to “change the way that we managed the live audience of the college football show.”

The second condition is a full investigation into Barstool Sports by the Massachusetts regulator’s Investigations and Enforcement Bureau, which commissioner Eileen O’ Brien pushed for after expressing concerns about the “character, integrity, honesty, and reputation of the company.”

“I raised the fact that tying your brand to that brand brought in the good, the bad, the ugly that came with that brand, and I still have that concern,” O’Brien said.

“And I had that concern historically on what that brand is and reaching out to a demographic that was helpful to your company. It is also a group that is particularly vulnerable to addiction, albeit it over the age of 21 for the most part.”

“This is not simply an article or a conversation about David Portnoy's conduct,” she added. “This goes to the brand itself.”

Snowden, for his part, welcomed the investigation provided that Penn was allowed to remain on a level playing field with other operators in receiving temporary suitability in Massachusetts.

“I hear the concerns being things that just don't line up with facts,” Snowden said. “When I provide the facts around what Barstool is and the diversity of Barstool and the statistics and data that go with it, I'm happy to engage in that conversation.

“But I would also hope that we will be provided benefit of the doubt during this temporary licensure process to prove to you and to give your enforcement division enough time to conduct full due diligence and a full investigative work around suitability, because I don't think that you have complete information today based on the comments that have been made.”

A decision on Penn’s online sports wagering license application was deferred until next month, when the commission will resume hearings on other online applicants.

To date, the commission has granted each of the state’s three casinos temporary suitability for licensure for retail betting. Temporary suitability approvals have also been granted to online applicants, BetMGM, WynnBET, and Caesars Sportsbook, the latter of which also received its temporary suitability finding during Tuesday’s meeting.

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