Is Portnoy of Barstool Finally Toxic to Penn? Massachusetts Has Misgivings

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Dave Portnoy of Barstool Sports fame may finally be toxic to Penn Entertainment, which owns the brand. Because of concerns about Portnoy, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) paused to consider the “suitability” of awarding a retail sports betting license to Penn’s Plainridge Park Casino.

The Boston-area racino plans to brand its retail sportsbook with Barstool and mobile sports betting with Fanatics and Barstool Sportsbook and Casino.

However, Portnoy’s connection with the Barstool brand concerned commissioners.

So, even though Portnoy founded Barstool Sports and still hypes the brand for Penn, the situation may have further consequences for him. The gambling industry isn’t known for keeping people around who make it difficult to obtain licenses.

Gaming Today’s Rebecca Hanchett reported about yesterday’s MGC meeting:

Citing a Nov. 20 New York Times expose of Barstool founder David Portnoy, Commissioner Eileen O’Brien asked the MGC to take a deeper look at the sportsbook brand’s suitability. …

A vote on the Plainridge Park application could be held off until the MGC hears from Barstool/Penn Interactive during its vetting of Massachusetts mobile sports betting license applicants next week.

Commissioners then ended the public portion of its meeting and invited Penn into a gathering behind closed doors. As a result, the MGC didn’t vote on Penn’s retail sports betting license yesterday.

Since yesterday, PENN stock has dropped more than 3%.

Portnoy of Barstool the Subject of a Times Article

The Nov. 20 Times headline A Risky Wager: Desperate for Growth, Aging Casino Company Embraced ‘Degenerate Gambler’ wasn’t flattering to Portnoy of Barstool or Penn. Neither were the 4,000 words or so that followed.

Emily Steel writes:

Mr. Portnoy, 45, rose to fame by capitalizing on misogyny and other offensive behavior. He once said that some women “kind of deserve to be raped.” He wouldn’t remove photos showing a toddler’s penis from his blog until police showed up at his door. He made what he acknowledged were racist statements, including using the N-word repeatedly. He outed women who accused him of sexual misconduct, threatened to fire employees engaged in unionizing and repeatedly incited attacks on his critics.

Today, Mr. Portnoy’s reach is greater than ever. The publicly traded casino company Penn Entertainment is poised to take over Barstool, following a 2020 deal in which it bought a 36 percent stake. Mr. Portnoy has been catapulted into the role of public spokesman for the sports-betting industry.

Steel notes many US gambling regulators read a Nov. 4, 2021, Insider story by Julia Black about Portnoy’s alleged mistreatment of women. (A court dismissed Portnoy’s defamation suit against the publication last month.)

Now state gaming regulators and lawmakers are taking note of the Times coverage.

A Schism May Already Be Appearing

Portnoy’s historically considered himself untouchable and even bragged that he had the power to “cancel” his critics.

Indeed, “Stoolies” come to his defense. Those fans are the hardcore ones, but Portnoy tends to draw a crowd wherever he goes.

On Nov. 3, Penn CEO and President Jay Snowden said in the Q3 2022 earnings press release:

On October 21st, we celebrated the opening of the newest Barstool Sportsbook at L’Auberge Baton Rouge in Louisiana, where we were joined by key Barstool talent, including Dave Portnoy and Dan “Big Cat” Katz.

Today on LinkedIn, the Barstool Sports company page reads, in part:

Barstool steals the spotlight in cultural moments. Their presence at major sporting events drives more awareness, engagement, and viewership in younger demographics than any other media brand. Barstool Sports and its founder, Dave Portnoy, consistently ranks as the #1 most influential social media account at major sporting events like the Kentucky Derby, Super Bowl, PGA Championship, U.S. Open Golf, Stanley Cup Finals, NASCAR’s Daytona 500, and more.

Even though Portnoy’s been untouchable so far, recent attention may have Penn seeing its relationship with him differently.

As if to emphasize that change, Bonus noticed today that Portnoy’s Twitter account – @stoolpresidente – didn’t include a response to the MGC situation. Portnoy is notoriously prone to hitting back against anyone who criticizes him, but that’s probably unwise when dealing with regulators.

SBCAmericas Jessica Welman wrote yesterday that even though a Penn spokesman regularly emphasizes the separation of Barstool Media from Barstool’s gaming operations, the impact of his words on commissioners felt different. On LinkedIn, Welman characterized it as “the most open and frank discussion regulators have had about Penn and Barstool Sportsbook so far.”

MGC Chairwoman Cathy Judd-Stein said regulators are “at a crossroads.”

Welman quotes Judd-Stein:

So now we have an obligation to reconcile what is very available publicly as to Barstool and, really, the significant personality attached to Barstool, and what we are going to do about it as we think about this application.

So Portnoy may have several reckonings awaiting him in his native state.

At the forefront, Massachusetts regulators may prompt Penn to reexamine its relationship with him. Portnoy of Barstool fame may have to distance himself from the brand he founded. Or Penn may have to draw a clearer line between Barstool Media and Barstool Sports.

About the Author
Heather Fletcher

Heather Fletcher

Heather Fletcher is the lead writer at Bonus, concentrating on online casino coverage. She had her first published byline at age 10, but didn't get paid for her writing until she got her first newspaper job. Fletcher's newspaper career started at Suburban News Publications in Ohio and eventually took her to The New York Times, where she's still a contract freelance reporter for the National Desk. She covers breaking news from Philadelphia, as needed. In March 2021, Fletcher began writing about online casino gambling as the lead writer for Online Poker Report.

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