Dave Portnoy Involvement Stalls Sports Betting Application Process in Massachusetts

  • MGC has concerns over Dave Portnoy’s involvement with Penn Entertainment
  • Plainridge Park is hoping to launch retail sports betting in January through the Barstool brand
  • Commissioners have concerns about Portnoy’s gambling and his impact on younger audiences
  • Penn has long been aware that Portnoy links could negatively impact business opportunities
Dave Portnoy
The MGC has concerns about Dave Portnoy’s role within Penn Entertainment delaying the approval of Plainridge Park Casino’s sports betting license application. [Image: Zach Catanzareti Photo via Flickr]

A fresh obstacle

As the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) begins reviewing the initial batch of sports betting licenses, it has developed concerns over Dave Portnoy’s involvement with Penn Entertainment.

controlling interest in Barstool Sports, the founder of which is Dave Portnoy

The application in question is Plainridge Park Casino’s proposal to start offering retail sports betting in January in collaboration with Penn Entertainment. The latter has a controlling interest in Barstool Sports, the founder of which is Dave Portnoy, a controversial figure on social media.

Various concerns

MGC commissioners have concerns about Portnoy’s self-admitted problems in the past with controlling his gambling and the impact he might have on a younger audience when advertising sports betting. A New York Times article last month, “Desperate for Growth, Aging Casino Company Embraced ‘Degenerate Gambler’,” highlighted some of Portnoy’s history with gambling. The piece claims that Portnoy encourages his fan base to gamble recklessly. Portnoy rebuked the allegations in the article, saying that the reports were “non-factual.”

MGC commissioners spoke in particular about the popularity of the Barstool Sports brand, especially with people who are younger than 21 years old, a group the MGC wants to protect from gambling-related advertising. One of the specific examples highlighted that typifies the concerns was when Portnoy went to a University of Tennessee football game in September and reportedly told the crowd that he had placed a $100,000 bet on Georgia to win the game.

At the meeting on Tuesday, MGC Commissioner Nakina Skinner said: “Barstool Sports is the elephant in the room.”

ended their meeting without approving or rejecting the license application

The commissioners ultimately ended their meeting without approving or rejecting the license application. It is expected that a vote will take place next week on the matter. Penn Entertainment is the owner of Plainridge Park Casino and was hoping to receive the state’s first-ever sports betting license on Tuesday.

A close relationship with Barstool

Penn Entertainment’s sports betting operations are run through the Barstool Sports brand. It missed out on getting an online sportsbook license in New York, reportedly partially due to Portnoy’s association with the company.

Barstool sportsbooks are currently up and running in 13 states, including in New Jersey, Illinois, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Penn Entertainment initially bought a 36% stake in Barstool in February 2020, before committing in August 2022 to take a controlling interest in the company by February 2023. MGC commissioners have pointed out that Penn Entertainment even made a disclosure at the time of buying Barstool that the association with Portnoy could negatively impact potential business opportunities.

The process of awarding licenses to the three casinos in Massachusetts is supposed to be a formality. They are able to offer retail sports betting, as well as partner with up to two online operators. The MGC is set to review MGM Springfield’s license application on Wednesday and Encore Boston Harbor’s application on Thursday.