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Massachusetts Gaming Commission concerned about Dave Portnoy's connection to Plainridge Park Casino

Luna Ramsay

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BOSTON - "A degenerate gambler." That's how Barstool Sports creator Dave Portnoy describes himself.

Barstool has become a popular - and controversial - player in the world of sports gambling. And its founder's rhetoric on betting took center stage at a Massachusetts Gaming Commission hearing on whether or not to allow a Barstool-themed sports book to open at the Plainridge Park Casino in Plainville.

A recent New York Times article described how Portnoy models what some see as reckless betting practices, like his recent boast that "I put a hundred grand on Georgia to win the [college football] national championship, and a 2019 tweet urging followers to "bet your house, kids and family" on a Kansas City Chiefs team that went on to lose.

That report and other negative publicity about Portnoy has left some members of the commission wondering if his partnership with Plainridge owner Penn National renders them unsuitable to hold a sports betting license. "When we talk about Mr. Portnoy putting out all this money or losing, some of the comments he's made in the past fly in the face of responsible gaming," said Commissioner Brad Hill. Added Commissioner Eileen O'Brien: "I've made pretty clear I want a full suitability review of Barstool."

Penn National CEO Jay Snowden pushed back on that criticism. "It's meant to be funny, it's not meant to be pushing something as being viewed as 'can't lose,'" he said of the Barstool and Portnoy rhetoric. And while Snowden also contested the notion that Barstool promotes betting to underage kids, he had to concede that as recently as last week's live-audience Barstool event at the Army-Navy game, no one was checking IDs.

So, will Portnoy and his "Barstool College Tour" be coming here, to a state where the new sports betting law bans wagering on local colleges? Commissioner Jordan Maynard seemed to sum up the skepticism: "I do feel that you're the company you keep."

In the end the commission voted unanimously to approve a temporary license but insisted on a deeper investigation of Barstool's practices before making it permanent, putting the onus on Portnoy to watch his step going forward.

How that will work with a figure who's won fame and fortune by not minding his manners remains to be seen.

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