Ontario Sportsbook Has Its Fingerprints All Over The PENN-ESPN Deal

Written By Matthew Lomon on August 9, 2023
Dock in Muskoka

PENN Entertainment and ESPN are joining forces to introduce a new player to the US online sports betting market. But in Ontario, it will be business as usual for PENN’s Canadian partner, theScore Bet.

On Tuesday, the sports media and entertainment heavyweights announced that PENN became the exclusive rights-holder of ESPN Bet sportsbook.

As part of the initial 10-year agreement, which carries a mutual option for an additional 10 years, Barstool Sportsbook will rebrand into ESPN Bet in the fall of 2023, per the release. The succeeding site will operate under the tech stack built and operated by Toronto-based theScore Bet, which was unaffected by the deal and will remain PENN’s Ontario sports betting operator.

“ESPN Bet will be deeply integrated with ESPN’s broad editorial, content, digital and linear product, and sports programming ecosystem,” said Jay Snowden, chief executive officer and president of PENN. “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.”

For those wondering how this may affect Barstool moving forward, we’ll discuss that shortly. First, let’s see what this move means for theScore’s Ontario sportsbook and casino operations.

Ontario to play complementary role in driving ESPN Bet’s success

While Ontario’s regulated market will remain largely unaffected by ESPN Bet’s presence (exclusive to the US), it will take on a key role in getting the new gambling site off the ground.

As mentioned earlier, ESPN Bet will feature the same proprietary technology as its sister-site, theScore Bet.

“This state-of-the-art tech platform continues to drive strong results with theScore Bet in Ontario, and our improved product will provide the foundation for meaningful growth in the US,” said Snowden in Wednesday morning’s second quarter earnings call.

Re-introducing this familiar and well-received operating system is said to help ease the transition process for returning customers. Further, ESPN Bet will also feature the same integrated framework that has made theScore Bet a popular option amongst Ontarians.

Essentially, ESPN Bet will follow theScore Bet’s lead to become an all-in-one sports news, betting, and casino game platform.

Dave Portnoy reacquires 100% of Barstool from PENN

In January 2020, PENN purchased a 36% stake in Barstool Sports for $163 million, later buying the remaining stake in February 2023 to become the company’s sole shareholder.

Not six months later, the sports media and pop culture giant is back under the command of founder Dave Portnoy.

The Massachusetts native reacquired 100% of Barstool Sports from PENN in exchange for certain non-compete and other restrictive agreements. In the deal, PENN also retained the right to receive 50% of the gross profits received by Portnoy in any subsequent sale or other monetization event of Barstool.

‘Stool Presidente’ shared a video on X, breaking down what he says, is arguably the biggest day in Barstool’s history.

*NSFW Language

Portnoy specifically stated that he has nothing but the utmost respect for PENN and the relationship the two outlets were able to build. That said, he also went on to say that too many obstacles prevented the project from reaching its ceiling.

“We underestimated just how tough it is for myself and Barstool to operate in a regulated world,” said Portnoy. “Where gambling regulators, The New York TimesBusiness Insider hit pieces (impacting) the stock price. Every time we did something it was one step forward, two steps back. We got denied licenses because of me. You name it.”

In the same earnings call, Snowden was effusive in his praise for Barstool. However, he ultimately agreed with Portnoy’s assessment that moving Barstool out of the regulated market was the right move.

Photo by Shutterstock
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Matthew Lomon

Matthew Lomon has been a contributor at Catena Media’s network of regional sites since July 2022. He first broke into covering the legal North American gambling industry with PlayCanada. Since then, Matthew's reporting has extended to PlayMichigan, PlayPennsylvania, and PlayIllinois. Based out of Toronto, Ontario, Matthew is an avid (bordering on fanatic) sports fan.

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