Gaming commission monitoring Penn, Barstool Sports

BOSTON (SHNS) – Investigators at the Massachusetts Gaming Commission have been keeping a close eye on Barstool Sports, which is partially owned by Plainridge Park Casino’s parent company, and its founder Dave Portnoy in the wake of two articles that raised sexual misconduct allegations against Portnoy.

Executives from Penn National Gaming met with Gaming Commission investigators this week after alerting the commission to Business Insider articles from November and last week in which women said that Portnoy was violent during sex and filmed them without their consent. Portnoy has staunchly denied the allegations and this week filed a defamation lawsuit against Business Insider in federal court.

Loretta Lillios, director of the Gaming Commission’s Investigations and Enforcement Bureau, said Thursday that all four members of the Gaming Commission went to her with concerns when the November article was published and that there have been “notable expressions … of the disturbing nature of the content in the article” from commissioners.

“Penn has expressed that it fully understands the regulatory concerns here and also understands its reputational concerns,” Lillios said. “They did point out that the conduct asserted in the articles is not workplace conduct … and also noted that no criminal charges have been issued at this juncture and Penn has expressed that they have no knowledge of any ongoing criminal investigation.”

In January 2020, Penn National Gaming bought a 36 percent stake in Barstool in a transaction valued at roughly $163 million. Penn is Barstool’s exclusive sports gaming partner and has “the sole right to utilize the Barstool Sports brand for all of the Company’s online and retail sports betting and iCasino products,” according to the company. The partnership has paid off financially for Penn so far. A year ago, Penn’s CEO said some of the company’s properties saw sports betting handles increase as much as 35 percent after being rebranded as Barstool sportsbooks.

Neither Barstool nor Portnoy is considered a “qualifier” that must win Gaming Commission approval to be involved in the state’s casino gaming industry (if the roles were reversed and Barstool owned at least 5 percent of Penn, then they would be considered qualifiers). But Barstool Sports is registered with the Gaming Commission as a non-gaming vendor because it sells some merchandise at the Plainville slots parlor, and the IEB conducted a cursory background check on the company before approving that designation in the spring of 2020.

“The Barstool non-gaming vendor background check did reveal some derogatory media information pertaining to the company’s founder, but nothing that would lead to a denial of the registration under the criteria established for NGVs by the commission,” Lillios said. “And the criteria and protocols for the NGV review do not call for a review of any particular individual associated with the applicant company, so the IEB has not performed a background investigation of Mr. Portnoy or any other individual associated with Barstool Sports.”

The Barstool Sports logo has become a common presence on Penn National Gaming and Plainridge Park Casino materials, and Commissioner Eileen O’Brien said Thursday that she wants Penn to be aware of the kind of message that sends and the company’s responsibility to maintain its suitability on an ongoing basis.

“I do want to continue talking about this and Penn’s response because I have commented a lot recently on the fact that they make a point of putting Barstool’s, as well as the MyChoice brand, on their PowerPoints when they come and report to us quarterly and so it is part of their brand that they’re putting out there and part of their persona that they’re putting forward,” she said. “And there is a component to suitability that encompasses integrity, honesty, and good character of the applicant.”

O’Brien added, “And I just would want to reiterate … the importance of sort of the discretionary component to suitability as well as the strict mandatory qualifier requirements.”

Commissioners took no action related to Penn or Barstool on Thursday but agreed the IEB should continue to monitor the situation and report back to the commission at a future public meeting.

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