Barstool Sportsbook isn’t licensed in Nevada. But that’s not stopping the state’s Gaming Control Board from asking its casino partner, Penn National Gaming, about recent events surrounding the founder of the irreverent online media operation known for its focus on sports, gambling, pizza reviews and borderline R-rated videos.
Control Board Chairman Brin Gibson said last week he requested information from the regional casino operator about an article last month in Insider.com, which detailed accusations against Barstool founder Dave Portnoy of various sexual harassment and misconduct allegations. Portnoy denied the claims in the lengthy article, taking to social media and various channels to blast the publication, the article’s author and the Germany-based owner of the website.
Penn National is licensed in Nevada where it operates M Resort in Henderson, two casinos in the northern Nevada community of Jackpot and is in process of ending its stewardship of the Tropicana Las Vegas. The company, which operates 41 casinos in 20 states, acquired 36 percent of Barstool for $163 million in January 2020.
Penn launched its digital gaming operations under the Barstool brand last year, and the company’s mobile sports betting app is now in 10 states while also re-branding several of its retail sportsbooks in the Midwest as Barstool-themed operations. In November, Penn National CEO Jay Snowden said the company is focused on sports betting opportunities in Canada following its $2 billion acquisition of theScore gaming platform.
Nevada has never been mentioned by Penn National executives as a potential Barstool sportsbook location, nor is Portnoy or any other Barstool executive licensed by any state gaming regulatory body. The Barstool app is available in Arizona, where the company is the title sponsor for college football’s Arizona Bowl in Tucson on Dec. 31.
Gibson, however, still wants Penn National to answer a few questions surrounding the accusations.
“I want to make sure that you understand that I am concerned with Barstool Sports,” Gibson told Penn National Chief Financial Officer Felicia Hendrix during her licensing hearing in Las Vegas. “I’ve sent your company a request for information on the vetting of those issues by your compliance committee. I’d like to see the report by the date that I noted. I would appreciate that.”
Hendrix, who was unanimously recommended for a license by the Control Board, said she would follow up on the matter. Her attorney, former Control Board Chairman A.G. Burnett, told Gibson that Penn National was “working” on his request.
“I think you will receive a response to that soon,” Burnett said.
Barstool Sports claims a loyal following of more than 66,000 million viewers to its various social media and internet channels, with much of the content now devoted toward sports betting. Portnoy and other Barstool personalities often discuss their own personal wagers made on the Barstool app, which is allowed as they are not licensed as Penn National key employees.
Earlier this year, Portnoy helped save the historic Reading Terminal Market in downtown Philadelphia, which had been hit hard by COVID-19 lockdowns. He raised more than $250,000 for the location through a promotion in which Penn donated $100 for every new Barstool Sportsbook app activated over a 24-hour period with a deposit of $100 or more.
In late 2020, he started the Barstool Fund, which to date has raised more than $41.6 million to help bolster small businesses across the country damaged economically by the pandemic. To qualify, businesses had to have paid their staff throughout the pandemic, even while operating under COVID-19 health and safety protocols. To date, the program has funded 443 businesses.
But Portnoy can also be a lightning rod.
Last year, when Penn National’s stock price was tumbling, Portnoy used his social media channels to chastise gaming analysts critical of the casino operator, notably Deutsche Bank gaming analyst Carlo Santarelli.
This article is an excerpt from Indy Gaming, December 8, 2021.