Sports betting heats up: Barstool hits $450m valuation in deal with casino company

Dave Portnoy said he wants Barstool Sports to be the biggest gambling outfit in the country. Will his bad reputation catch up to him?


January 29, 2020

Barstool Sports just hit the jackpot.

The casino kingpin Penn National Gaming is buying a 36% stake in Barstool, in a deal that values the controversial sports and pop-culture blog at $450m, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Barstool’s brash founder, Dave Portnoy, celebrated the news in the most #onbrand way possible: with a fake press conference beamed from the surface of the moon.

The chips might be stacked in Barstool’s favor

Portnoy said he wants Barstool to be the biggest gambling company in the country. Here’s why that could be a strong bet:

  • Barstool is going back to its roots. When Portnoy founded the site, in 2003, it was mostly a gambling rag.
  • Sports betting is booming. The Supreme Court allowed states to legalize sports gambling in 2018. Since then, 20 states and the District of Columbia have gone all in, and gamblers have placed $17B in legal sports wagers.
  • Barstool’s audience is huuuge. The company says about 66m people visit the site each month. The deal could give Penn National a stampede of younger gamblers, and Barstool an even stronger revenue stream.

But are the odds as good as they look?

There’s just one potential hitch: Portnoy’s reputation for acting like a neanderthal and attracting the frattiest of frat bros. A few lowlights from Barstool’s recent past:

  • In 2017, ESPN canceled a Barstool-themed TV show after just one episode. Employees at the Worldwide Leader called attention to gross comments Portnoy and others had made about the sportscaster Samantha Ponder.
  • This month, the National Labor Relations board ordered Portnoy to delete tweets saying he would fire employees who spoke with union organizers “on the spot.”

The company’s checkered history doesn’t seem to be scaring off investors — Penn National’s stock took off after the announcement.

What’s next: Expect more tie-ins between media companies and gambling outfits. Last year, ESPN launched a new show called “Daily Wager” that caters to viewers who bet on sports.

Capitalize on it: Our Trends story explains how you can pounce on the growing sports-gambling industry.

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