After a debate concerning PENN Entertainment’s request to rebrand its Barstool Sportsbook to ESPN Bet, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission green-lighted the new sports betting app to launch next week in the state.
PENN announced in August that it had entered into a long-term agreement with ESPN to change its sports betting app. Since then, bettors in Massachusetts and beyond have waited for the launch date.
The day is now Nov. 14 after state regulators were satisfied with PENN’s commitment to follow the rules in Massachusetts.
MA regulators voice concerns to PENN at meeting to approve ESPN Bet
Massachusetts sports betting is thriving, with eight other sportsbooks serving players in The Bay State. ESPN Bet Massachusetts will become the ninth. The previous product, Barstool Sportsbook, will become ESPN Bet. PENN sold the Barstool name back to its original owner, Dave Portnoy. The deal stipulated that Barstool must stay out of the betting business.
Members of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission debated the rebranding request from PENN for more than an hour. Several commissioners voiced concerns. Chief among them was how ESPN, a major sports and entertainment channel, would promote sports betting on its platforms. Commissioners were specifically concerned over possible dangers to underage viewers.
PENN Chief Strategy Officer Chris Rogers addressed their concerns at the meeting.
“ESPN is strongly committed to being best in class from the responsible gaming marketing partnership.”
Rogers said content from ESPN would adhere to Massachusetts regulations on sports betting marketing and also advertising. ESPN shows will not “glorify sports betting or downplay the risk of wagering,” Rogers said in an opening statement to the commissioners.
PENN CSO says ESPN is developing an employee policy on sports betting
In addition, Rogers said that any promotion of ESPN Bet that took place during a broadcast at a college stadium or venue “would not be visible to the [live] audience.” PENN also assured the MGC that no “ESPN insider” reporter or any other ESPN employee would have access to any betting platform from PENN. According to Rogers, ESPN is developing a standards policy for its employees regarding sports wagering.
Commissioner Eileen O’Brien expressed concern over ESPN on-air personalities making bet recommendations, which is a violation of Massachusetts code. She also posed questions about how ESPN can maintain impartiality as a sports news organization reporting on and broadcasting events while also offering a sportsbook product.
Ultimately, PENN was able to appease the commission and promised to produce a document within the next week that would outline how ESPN personalities would manage betting content in their broadcasts.
ESPN Bet details
Penn intends to launch ESPN Bet in 17 states on Nov. 14, including in Massachusetts.
Former users of Barstool Sportsbook will simply need to put in their old passwords to set up an ESPN Bet account automatically. Both new and existing qualify for new user promotions once they are announced.
ESPN Bet will likely undergo a soft launch testing phase, per Massachusetts gaming policy. Rodgers said PENN and ESPN are excited to launch their new sports betting app in Massachusetts.
“We are incredibly excited to launch ESPN Bet next week. We are confident that our new marketing collaboration with this well established and trusted brand will result in meaningful economic impact in the commonwealth.”