Penn’s Massachusetts License Uncertain Due to Responsible Gaming Concerns

Penn Entertainment, the newest owner of Barstool sportsbook, encountered difficulties during the license application process for its Plainridge Park Casino venue in Massachusetts. The state’s gambling commission conducted a thorough investigation sparked by a series of controversies connected to the operator. 

While the group was supposed to reach a consensus during its latest meeting, members opted to delay their vote until next week amidst concerns regarding responsible gaming policies.

Damning New Information Drew Increased Scrutiny

Massachusetts implemented its betting law in August 2022, and several operators immediately expressed interest in expanding to this untapped market. The first company scheduled to receive a retail sports betting license was Penn Entertainment’s Barstool sportsbook. However, the state’s regulator postponed their decision due to controversies stemming from a recent New York Times article. 

The primary cause for concern among the Massachusetts Gaming Commission members was Penn’s relationship with Barstool founder David Portnoy. The article drew attention to his history of debt, tax liens, and frequent social media posts promoting irresponsible gambling. A particular incident in Tennessee saw Portnoy attend a University of Tennessee football game where he advertised an alcoholic drink with other Barstool personalities and discussed his most recent $100,000 wager.

Commission members were understandably concerned after these revelations and invited Penn and Plainridge Park representatives to a private discussion regarding the sportsbook’s integrity. Commissioner Eileen O’Brien was the most vocal regarding this matter, noting that Portnoy’s relation to Penn Entertainment as the primary marketer of Barstool Sports was not a trivial matter.

Delving into what that means in terms of suitability, honesty, and integrity of the applicant… bears a discussion by this Commission.

Other commission members mirrored O’Brien’s concern, describing the relationship between Penn Entertainment and Barstool Sports as the “elephant in the room” during the discussions.

Penn Representatives Attempted to Ease Concerns

Chris Soriano, chief compliance officer at Penn Entertainment, stressed that the company always strictly adhered to marketing regulations and never targeted underage individuals. He also drew attention to the distinction between Barstool sportsbook and Barstool Media, commenting that the promotion mentioned in the article was solely the work of the company’s media arm and had no relation to sports betting activities.

Erin Chamberlin, VP of regional operations at Penn, stated that many of the Commission’s concerns applied to the entire industry, and singling out a specific sportsbook would be dishonest.

This question could be asked, and this dialogue could take place around many others, not just us.

The company representatives also stated that Penn enforced strict compliance guardrails on its sportsbook operations and was the first US business recognized by the Responsible Gaming Council.

Plainridge Park Will Likely Receive Its License

As discussions between the state regulator and Penn Entertainment continue, Plainridge Park Casino representatives had little to say. The Commission recognized that the venue’s application was excellent in all regards, except for Barstool’s involvement. 

Plainridge Park aims to obtain a Category one license, allowing it to legally offer sports betting on its grounds in addition to two online sports betting websites operated by Barstool and Fanatics. The two operators will have to obtain individual licenses to run their mobile offerings, so a potential refusal by the regulator to allow Barstool in Massachusetts still leaves the door open for Plainridge.

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