The Massachusetts Gaming Commission has approved Barstool Sportsbook for an online sports betting license, albeit with some specific strings attached.
Commissioners met Tuesday and Wednesday to consider the application made by the PENN Entertainment Inc. subsidiary to offer mobile sports betting in Massachusetts. The so-called “Category 3” license is to be “tethered” to PENN’s Plainridge Park Casino.
The Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) found PENN-owned Barstool Sportsbook preliminarily suitable for a mobile wagering permit, allowing the bookmaker to apply for a temporary license while a full suitability investigation is conducted. The approval means there are now four operators on track to operate online sports betting sites in the state.
However, regulators also attached specific conditions to their approval, similar to those previously applied to Plainridge Park, including that the operator take steps to ensure no one younger than 21 can attend any of Barstool Sports' live college football shows.
“This is now the beginning of an ongoing process,” MGC Chair Cathy Judd-Stein said on Wednesday. “I know that there's still the verification and testing processes and certification processes ahead. But we congratulate you at this juncture.”
Easing the tension
Members of the MGC previously voiced concerns about PENN and its ties to Barstool Sports during the hearings for Plainridge Park’s license. PENN bought a 36% stake in Barstool Sports in February 2020, and then, in August 2022, PENN exercised its rights to buy the digital-media company entirely.
The transaction has granted PENN the right to use the Barstool Sports brand for its sports-betting operations, which it does for its retail and mobile-wagering efforts. PENN plans to do the same in Massachusetts.
Barstool, though, has attracted controversy since PENN’s purchase. Trying to smooth over concerns about Barstool and stressing responsible-gambling efforts, including those of Barstool Sports, was a big part of PENN’s pitch to the regulators during the Barstool Sportsbook hearing.
One PENN official noted the company has removed the term “risk-free” from its promotional offers. Other comments were similar to the ones offered in December by PENN CEO Jay Snowden, who said the company had made mistakes in the past but had learned from them.
“To be clear, neither [Barstool Sports founder] David Portnoy nor anyone else at Barstool has any control or decisionmaking authority over the operations at either the retail or online operations of Barstool Sportsbook,” Snowden added. “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.”
Wednesday’s approval follows a busy December for the MGC, during which the regulator approved in-person sports betting licenses for three casinos and three mobile sports betting licenses. The commission is eyeing a January 31 start for retail sports betting at the casinos and an early March launch for online wagering.
The three other online sportsbook operators with approvals under their belts are BetMGM, Caesars Sportsbook, and WynnBET. BetMGM's license will be tethered to the retail license for MGM Springfield, while those of Caesars and WynnBET are tied to Encore Boston Harbor.
“WynnBET, BetMGM and Caesars Sportsbook are all now eligible to request temporary licenses to conduct sports wagering while full suitability reviews are undertaken by the MGC,” the commission recently said on its website.
Barstool Sportsbook's mobile sports betting license will be linked to the permit possessed by Plainridge Park Casino, which the commission found preliminarily suitable for an in-person sports betting license in December as well.
Massachusetts’ sports-betting law provides for up to three sports-betting licenses for the casinos, and those “Category 1” licenses entitle the casinos to two digital-wagering platforms that require their own “Category 3” permits. Two racetracks in the state are eligible for in-person wagering licenses too, although they grant only a single mobile permit to the track operator.
In addition, there are up to seven “untethered” licenses for mobile sports betting. Those have yet to be addressed by the commission, but they will be this month. The MGC began work on the application submitted by BetFanatics on Wednesday as well, which will continue on Thursday.
“Review of additional Category 3 applicants to be tethered to a Category 1 license as well as untethered Category 3 applications are scheduled for January 2023,” the MGC noted. “All entities awarded licenses must also obtain certificates of operations and meet additional conditions before they can accept wagers on approved sporting events.”