Casino kingpins place a big bet


January 30, 2020

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Here’s a crash course on the state of media in 2020. Yesterday, Warren Buffett said sayonara to his newspaper empire, and a casino company powered Barstool Sports to a $450m valuation. What does it mean? Probably nothing good for the old guard. Today:

  • Bitcoin scams are the latest rage
  • New-wave chatbots come of age
  • Your off-Facebook sites take the stage

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

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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bitcoin image

2019 was a big year for Bitcoin scams

Bitcoin is still a fringe currency, but it’s catching on in a crime-infested corner of the internet, The New York Times reports.

This week, the crypto-crime watchers Chainalysis found that the total amount of sales on “darknet” markets (the sketchy parts of the web) grew 70% last year, to more than $790m worth of crypto-cash.

Bitcoin is gaining wider acceptance — but more people are getting ripped off

  • One poll found that 8 in 10 American adults were familiar with at least one type of crypto.
  • 18% of them said they had purchased a form of cryptocurrency in the last year. Among millennials, that percentage nearly doubled, to 35%

Illicit transactions make up a tiny fraction of all crypto flow: just 1.1%. Still:

  • That 1.1% is more than double the rate of illicit transactions on the market in 2018.
  • 3 huge Ponzi scams were responsible for most of that activity.

The Chainalysis report says 3 threads tie all this sketchy activity together:

  • Crypto crime looks a lot like white-collar crime. It typically involves a small network of powerful hackers.
  • Most crimes involve money laundering. Because the bad guys have to convert their crypto to cash somehow.

Scams are the biggest threat. Think you’ll strike gold buying Bitcoin? You might just be a sucker.

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The future of customer service might cut out the humans

Eventually, robots are going to replace us all. Some startups are betting on it.

As Fast Company reports, a gaggle of them are raising money to create armies of AI-powered customer-service avatars. They’re supposed to look and talk just like humans.

But they call it the Uncanny Valley for a reason

The avatars are creepy, and most chatbots can’t hold a candle to a flesh-and-blood human. That said, there’s still big money in the idea that avatars could do the work of entire customer-service teams — eventually.

  • A New Zealand–based company called Soul Machines recently raised $40m in Series B funding.
  • Directly, another company that focuses on AI-powered customer service, just raised $20m from Samsung and other investors.

Press 0 to talk to a person

Some companies know that they can’t — and maybe shouldn’t — build systems to replicate all human interactions.

Uneeq, another company focused on “digital brand ambassadors,” has created nonhuman characters that might be just as effective.

Factory workers, watch out — they’re coming for your jobs, too

The AI startup Covariant says it has developed technology that allows robots to pick through packages more efficiently. The company says the robots are just as good as humans, or even better.

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These are the weirdest sites that shared your activity with Facebook

They belong on /r/riskyclick, because they sure sounded NSFW.

Yesterday, we told you about a new Facebook feature that lets you see the sites and apps that have shared your activity with the all-seeing eye of Zuck. We challenged you to beat our in-house champ, for the highest/most-concerning score (1,236 sites).

You delivered — but we gotta ask. What the heck are y’all looking at?

Here’s a sampling of some of the weirdest-sounding sites you told us about.

  • Sarah L. (2,087): poofycheeks.com (a crafting blog, apparently)
  • Courtney (813): boobdesign.com (sorry, not clicking on that)
  • Natalie (801) helpwevegotkids.com (she doesn’t have kids)
  • Dave (42): pbteen.com (that’s Pottery Barn Teen, ya sickos)
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Snippets

🚘 Lyft is laying off about 90 employees — or 1.6% of its workforce.

🚬 Some cash-strapped jails are making money by selling inmates overpriced e-cigarettes.

🌯 Chipotle has a child-labor problem.

🕹The hot new collectors’ market: factory sealed, retro video games.

📹 A YouTuber with 5m+ subscribers admitted to faking his girlfriend’s death to get more viewers.

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