Massachusetts Wants More Info About ESPN Bet Before Changeover

The review will be an interesting test of the partnership, which PENN and ESPN are counting on to make a splash and help them carve out a significant share of the market.

Oct 19, 2023 • 16:53 ET • 2 min read
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Massachusetts regulators are asking PENN Entertainment Inc. for more details about the gaming company’s plan to rebrand Barstool Sportsbook as ESPN Bet before the change goes through. 

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) met Thursday and considered PENN’s 10-year, $2-billion legal sports betting collaboration with ESPN, which the partners hope to implement in November

A PENN subsidiary is already licensed for Massachusetts sports betting and has taken wagers in the state using the Barstool Sportsbook brand, which is being phased out for ESPN Bet. 

That license, however, is technically a temporary one, and MGC staff thinks it could be reopened and potentially amended to contain new conditions if necessary. The commission also believes that PENN needs its approval before launching ESPN Bet in the state.  

But before we even get there, commissioners want more information in general about the ESPN Bet partnership. Based on their comments Thursday, the regulators sound like they are waiting for PENN to provide those details rather than gleaning them through media reports.

“I think this process seems to me to be a little bit backward,” Commissioner Nakisha Skinner said during the meeting. “I am not aware that we have gotten anything from PENN Entertainment relative to what they are proposing here.”

The Barstool standard

The MGC was thorough in its scrutiny of PENN’s previous online sports betting skin, Barstool. The commission even attached specific conditions to the approval of PENN’s mobile wagering license, including that the operator ensure no one younger than 21 could attend any of Barstool Sports' live college football shows.

Commissioners sound like they have somewhat similar concerns about the ESPN Bet partnership, as it will involve the promotion of the sportsbook using a media partner, and a rather significant one at that.

“I will hold ESPN to the same standard that I held Barstool during the application process,” Commissioner Jordan Maynard said during the meeting. “It's not as easy as just taking one thing off and putting another thing on… arguably, ESPN has more opportunities to host sports shows than Barstool did.”

This is SportsCenter (and here's an SGP?) 

The MGC will return in early November to scrutinize ESPN Bet further, before the new bookmaker launches. The review will be an interesting test of the partnership, which PENN and ESPN are counting on to make a splash and help them carve out a significant share of the market for online sports betting sites in the U.S.

Massachusetts has also proven itself to be a relatively strict regulator of sports betting, especially regarding advertising and marketing by operators. That oversight will be applied to ESPN Bet and its promotional efforts. 

“You cannot have someone, obviously, who works for the entity and that is also recommending specific bets that are going to be on their platforms and that sort of thing,” Commissioner Eileen O’Brien said on Thursday. 

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