Penn Entertainment’s Barstool to ESPN Bet Rebrand Detailed in Massachusetts Meeting
Penn Entertainment representatives discussed the upcoming rebrand of Barstool Sportsbook to ESPN BET this week with regulators in Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) asked pertinent questions to executives at a meeting on Tuesday to ensure a smooth transition that is adherent to regulatory standards during November’s move.
Executives revealed the rebrand to ESPN BET will be mostly cosmetic, but with some potential expansions in hardware capabilities to cater to an anticipated surge in interest for the new product. Penn executives assured the MGC that the rebranding would not affect the current tech stack and emphasized that ESPN would not have a role in sportsbook operations, which will remain under Penn’s management.
However, what everyone wants to know, the exact date ESPN Sportsbook will debut among Massachusetts online sportsbooks, was not revealed. For now, Barstool Sportsbook is still open online, and can count itself among Massachusetts retail sportsbooks with its Plainridge Park Casino sportsbook venue.
Addressing Advertising and Responsible Gambling
However, in the midst of the rebranding, Penn says it is not actively marketing the Barstool Sportsbook product at all. It is also continuing to update its house rules, terms, and conditions, and internal controls to remove references to the previous brand.
Furthermore, Penn and ESPN are set to introduce new responsible gambling tools, aiming to integrate responsible gambling into every player’s experience. The MGC has also clarified that Penn remains committed to preventing anyone under 21 from attending Barstool College Football shows during the transition.
Earlier this year, Penn was fined $250,000 by the Ohio Casino Control Commission for advertising its sportsbook at a Barstool Sports show in the University of Toledo, where many of the crowd were under 21.
The MGC is known a regulator not afraid of tough moves on that front, having forced sportsbooks in the state to amend their stadium adverts and sponsors to include 21+ signage. So, Penn made it clear that they would be playing ball on the issue.
Can’t Lose Controversies
Penn and Barstool were also grilled before the MGC earlier in 2023, after a “Can’t Lose Parlay” promotion that drew the ire of regulators.
The promotion was criticized for potentially violating rules around advertising “risk-free” betting. Penn defended the promotion as satire, citing that the creator of the parlay, Barstool personality Ben Katz, is known for poor betting choices, making the “can’t lose” label a jest rather than a guarantee.
However, Massachusetts regulators did not agree, and the promo was swiftly dropped.
Regulators across the U.S. were often irked by Barstool’s controversial sensibilities, especially those of its founder, Dave Portnoy, who is now back in control of the business he started in Boston in the early 2000s. He bought the Barstool Sports media division back for just $1, after Penn paid $330 million to acquire the entire brand in early 2023.
Penn representatives outlined that ESPN would promote ESPN BET through a comprehensive mix of content, editorial, digital integrations, talent promotions, and traditional media sponsorships. Portnoy will absolutely not have any involvement in the new business, they also clarified.
During the meeting, the MGC provided no update on the controversial data privacy regulations it is considering imposing on operators. The deadline is set for November 17 for the rules to be certified, with operators questioning if this is enough time to prepare a suitable framework.
The MGC did, however, qualify it had sorted out its issues with Boston-based DraftKings over its 21+ stadium signage, creating an agreement that suited both parties. The operator successfully argued that two of its DraftKings sports-themed bar areas were not considered full Massachusetts retail sportsbooks, and the 21+ signage could confuse customers of the all-ages venue.
The operator also told regulators it is well on the way to having all of its stadium signs, sponsors, and banners updated.