PENN Pulls The Plug On Barstool, To Relaunch Sportsbook As ESPN Bet In Ohio

Written By Mike Breen on August 9, 2023
ESPN Bet Ohio

PENN Entertainment has teamed up with ESPN to launch a new online sports betting endeavor, ESPN Bet.

PENN’s Barstool Sportsbook — which is currently one of 18 Ohio online sportsbooks available to bettors — will be rebranded as ESPN Bet this fall.

With the ESPN deal, PENN has sold 100% of Barstool Sports back to controversial founder Dave Portnoy, who said the company no longer plans to do business in the sports betting and gambling industries.

ESPN agreement with PENN worth $2 billion

With the agreement, PENN gets exclusive rights to the ESPN Bet trademark for an initial 10-year term. PENN Interactive will operate ESPN Bet sportsbook.

While Barstool Sportsbook will be rebranded ESPN Bet in the 16 states it’s currently operational in the U.S., PENN’s Canadian sportsbook will retain its current theScore Bet branding.

The terms of the agreement have PENN paying ESPN $1.5 billion in cash over 10 years. PENN will also grant ESPN $500 million in warrants to purchase approximately 31.8 million shares of PENN.

Sportsbook to be promoted across all ESPN platforms

ESPN Bet will receive exclusive promotion across all of ESPN’s platforms, including its television, radio and digital programming and access to the outlet’s broadcasting talent.

“This transformative, exclusive agreement with ESPN marks another major milestone in PENN’s evolution from a pure-play U.S. regional gaming operator to a North American entertainment leader,” PENN Entertainment president and CEO Jay Snowden said in a press release.

“ESPN Bet will be deeply integrated with ESPN’s broad editorial, content, digital and linear product and sports programming ecosystem. ESPN Bet will also benefit from PENN’s operational experience, extensive market access and proprietary technology platform, which successfully debuted in the U.S. this July.”

In a separate ESPN press release announcing the deal, ESPN chairman Jimmy Pitaro, who last year called a sportsbook partnership a “must-have” for the network, said the new deal is an extension of ESPN’s focus on serving the needs of sports fans.

“We know (fans) want both betting content and the ability to place bets with less friction from within our products,” Pitaro said. “The strategy here is simple: to give fans what they’ve been requesting and expecting from ESPN. PENN Entertainment is the perfect partner to build an unmatched user experience for sports betting with ESPN BET.”

ESPN proclaims commitment to responsible gambling

In ESPN’s press release, the sports media brand noted that in recent years it had come to embrace sports betting with related content on its platforms.

ESPN also said it was now dedicated to further using its platforms to educate users about responsible gambling practices, specifically pointing to the following plans going forward:

  • “Continuing ESPN’s high standard of journalistic integrity when covering the sports betting space.”
  • “Developing an ESPN committee of responsible gaming, representative of a diverse cross-section of the business, to regularly review compliance, programming, and policies.”
  • “Implementing responsible marketing policies and guidelines to safeguard fans.”
  • “Working with industry experts on best practices and continual review of responsible gaming programming.”

Deal marks end of tumultuous Barstool Sportsbook experiment

The new PENN/ESPN agreement marks the end of the often tumultuous life of Barstool Sportsbook.

Barstool launched the sportsbook in 2020, when PENN Entertainment had a 36% stake in the company. PENN announced the full acquisition of Barstool Sports — which included not only the sportsbook but all of Barstool’s media content — in February of this year.

Barstool Sports’ brashness and the outspoken Portnoy’s controversies led to friction with PENN as it tried to appease shareholders and negotiate the concerns of gambling regulators in states Barstool Sportsbook had garnered or was seeking licensing.

  • In Ohio just over a month after sports betting launched in the state, PENN accepted a $250,000 fine for the promotion of Barstool Sportsbook at a November Barstool Sports broadcast near the campus of the University of Toledo. State commissioners said the promotion violated Ohio’s rules against marketing to individuals under 21.
  • Before granting Barstool Sportsbook online and retail sportsbook licenses in Massachusetts, reluctant gambling commissioners expressed concerns, citing a New York Times story about Portnoy’s alleged misogynistic and racist behavior, as well as an incident at a Barstool event in Tennessee during which Portnoy bragged about placing a $100,000 college football bet in front of a college-aged crowd.
  • Earlier this year, Massachusetts commissioners chastised PENN for the language used in Barstool Sportsbook’s “Can’t Lose Parlay” promotion, which a PENN representative argued was obviously satirical because the Barstool personality affiliated with the promo was known to be bad at betting.
  • In May, Portnoy said that PENN forced Barstool to fire personality Ben “Mintzy” Mintz after he’d used a racial slur while reciting song lyrics on a livestream. Portnoy said PENN was concerned because the company is “highly regulated by the government” and could have their gambling licenses pulled. Barstool’s die-hard fanbase was irate over Mintz’s dismissal.

Portnoy gets full ownership of Barstool Sports back

In the wake of the ESPN Bet announcement, Portnoy posted a video to social media to triumphantly share the news that he once again owned “100% of Barstool Sports.” Portnoy said the company and brand just wasn’t suited for the U.S. sports betting market.

“We underestimated just how tough it is for myself and Barstool to operate in a regulated world, where gambling regulators, The New York Times, Business Insider hit pieces fucking with the stock prices … every time we did something it was one step forward, two steps back,” Portnoy said. “We got denied licenses because of me, you name it. So the regulated industry, probably not the best place for Barstool Sports and the type of content we make.”

Portnoy, who said Barstool would now focus exclusively on “content, content, content, content,” congratulated PENN on its “unbelievable” deal with ESPN.

“We wish them nothing but the best in their endeavors,” he said. “It’s truly a win-win. I still own a ton of PENN stock. I’ll probably hold it because I think it’s going to go up.”

PENN Ohio casinos/racinos currently have Barstool retail sportsbooks

Barstool’s market-access partner for its online sportsbook in Ohio is PENN’s Hollywood Casino location in Columbus. Barstool Sportsbook was among the first online sportsbooks to launch in Ohio on Jan. 1.

All four of PENN’s casino and racino properties in Ohio — Columbus, Hollywood Casino Toledo, Hollywood Gaming at Dayton Raceway and Hollywood Gaming at Mahoning Valley Race Course (near Youngstown) — contain Barstool-branded retail sportsbooks.

It’s unclear what (if any) name those sportsbooks will use now that the PENN/Barstool partnership has ended.

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Mike Breen

Mike Breen covers Ohio’s budding sports betting industry for PlayOhio, focusing on online sportsbooks and the state’s responsible gambling initiatives. He has over two decades of experience covering sports, news, music, arts and culture in Ohio.

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