Massachusetts Gaming Commission Pumps The Breaks On ESPN Bet Launch

Written By C.J. Pierre on October 19, 2023
A picture of a construction sign for a story about how Massachusetts regulators could end up delaying ESPN Bet Sportsbook's launch in the Bay State.

Sports fans are eagerly anticipating the launch of ESPN Bet in Massachusetts. This comes after PENN Entertainment inked a deal with the worldwide leader in sports with plans to rebrand the Barstool Sportsbook as the ESPN Bet Sportsbook.

The hope is to have everything switched over from Barstool to ESPN branding sometime next month. PENN CEO Jay Snowden has said the change will happen “certainly before Thanksgiving.”

However, during the Massachusetts Gaming Commission’s Thursday meeting, regulators essentially said, “Not so fast.” The commission expressed some confusion about how this rebrand will work and said they need PENN and ESPN to answer some questions before a relaunch can happen in The Bay State.

MGC Chair says Barstool to ESPN switch is not “apples to apples”

The rebrand from Barstool Sportsbook to ESPN Bet Sportsbook has been major news in the Massachusetts sports betting market.

On the surface, it doesn’t seem like it should be a complicated process. Change the logo, mix up the color scheme, and boom, you have a brand-new sports betting site. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

The MGC made several comments insinuating that there were more questions than answers regarding PENN’s attempt to rebrand its sports betting site. MCG Chair Cathy Judd-Stein says she is waiting for more communication about how this deal with ESPN will differ from the one with Barstool.

“I’m waiting for the ask, unless there’s this notion that they don’t need to ask us for a branding change,” Judd-Stein said. “I guess I’m just wondering why we haven’t recieved a request. This switch is not an apple-to-apple change.”

In January, MGC unanimously approved a tethered online sports betting license application for Penn Sports Interactive, which operates Barstool Sportsbook.

The license is dependent on several conditions.

The commissioners agreed that Barstool Sports had to cooperate with a thorough background and suitability investigation. Additionally, Barstool Sports had to take specific measures to ensure that only people 21 and older attend any Barstool Sports college football shows.

Commissioner Jordan Maynard says they should apply the same rules to ESPN as PENN’s new partner.

“I will hold ESPN to the same standards that I held Barstool during the application process,” Maynard said. “Just because ESPN is big and a behemoth doesn’t mean that I won’t hold them to the same standard that I did Barstool.”

The MGC plans to reach out to PENN with several questions, hoping to clarify what this new partnership will look like and how both companies will be able to meet the state’s regulations to operate sports betting.

“I want to see how Penn is thinking about this relationship swap. It’s not as easy as taking one thing off and another thing on,” Maynard said. “Knowing how that relationship works is very important to me. Don’t treat them any different.”

Could planned ESPN Bet launch in Massachusetts be pushed back?

There is a consensus that the commission will hold off on approving a launch of ESPN Bet until they can review and approve the process. But how long will that take, and will it come after PENN’s launch timeline of around Thanksgiving?

Heather Hall, the Chief Enforcement Counsel of the MGC’s Investigations & Enforcement Bureau, says she has been in contact with PENN Vice President Chris Soriano. He claims the operator will answer the commission’s questions about the PENN-ESPN partnership.

The belief is that those details will be provided to the MGC within a week.

Some commissioners expressed concern about being unable to review, discuss and approve the rebrand in time for ESPN Bet’s planned late November launch date. The indication is that the rebrand might not happen in Massachusetts as it happens in other jurisdictions.

The Barstool rebrand to ESPN Bet issue is expected to be discussed further at a future MGC meeting.

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C.J. Pierre

C.J. Pierre is a Lead Writer at PlayMA. He has been covering news and sports for over a decade for both online and TV broadcasts. He was born and raised in Minneapolis and an alum of Minnesota State University: Moorhead. He recently dove into tribal casino news. He also covered the launch of sports betting in Arizona. C.J. has experience as a reporter and videographer and has covered high school, college and professional sports throughout his career. Most notably following Arizona Cardinals, Phoenix Suns, Minnesota Vikings and North Dakota State University football.

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