[This article has been updated since its original publication before the Barstool app was available.]
Penn National Gaming unveiled its long-awaited sportsbook app during a three-day test period in Pennsylvania that began Tuesday afternoon, but don’t expect to log on and start wagering just yet.
Unlike the other nine online sportsbooks that have launched in the state over the past 16 months, Penn National is conducting an invitation-only test period of the Barstool Sports-branded site.
As with prior launches, the test with partial hours of operation each day, starting at 3 p.m. Tuesday, involves real-money odds and play and is monitored by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board to ensure the site meets all requirements, such as proper financial accounting, player interaction, responsible gaming features, and safeguards against play by minors or someone out of state.
But for the first time with any new online/mobile site, the general public will not be able to wager during the test period. The opportunity for everyone within Pennsylvania to deposit funds and begin betting will presumably be Friday, based on the gaming board’s typical review and approval process.
Penn National spokesman Eric Schippers explained the decision about delayed public access this way to Penn Bets: “There is a huge amount of interest in the Barstool Sports app. Limiting the number of participants for this test period provides us better volume control, coordination, and feedback.”
You can look at site, but not bet yet
Those downloading the phone app or visiting the site at barstoolsportsbook.com from 3 to 11 p.m. Tuesday could glimpse the new site’s features, even if it was not possible to place a wager without a special access code.
Among the information posted was notice of the possibility of an initial risk-free bet of up to $500 after placing a deposit for that amount, in addition to a $10 welcome bonus for all new sign-ups. Similar offers have been commonplace at other Pennsylvania sites.
Among features that bettors haven’t seen elsewhere is a “Barstool Power Hour,” also called the “Reduce the Juice” promotion. The site states that for a one-hour period each weekday from 5 to 6 p.m., customers can “enjoy bettor-friendly discounts on standard odds across selected matchups.”
And the tie-in with several of Barstool’s well-known personalities is made clear initially by highlighting their bet preferences, giving players a quick option to either “back” or “fade” them. For instance, Dave Portnoy was recommending taking the Boston Celtics -1.5 in their Tuesday night NBA playoff game against the Miami Heat, while Dan “Big Cat” Katz favored an “over” bet on the Denver Nuggets vs. Los Angeles Clippers point total of 207.5 (-122).
The site also touts a number of bet options under an “Exclusives” heading, which appear similar to what many sites call “Bet Boosts,” such as one for the Phillies to beat the New York Mets Tuesday with Bryce Harper hitting a home run in the game (priced at +750 instead of +589).
There is also a “Move the Line” feature for contests, letting the bettor drag an icon of a barstool across a line to, say, move the total runs o/u for the Phils-Mets game from over 10 (-117) to over 11 (+143) or pick other options.
Gaming board is fine with the limited access
Gaming board spokesman Doug Harbach said that while Penn National’s starting out with restricted access to customers during the test period is unique, it is not a problem for the regulatory agency.
Penn National is making the site available during its initial three days of partial operation to “a limited number of pre-registered participants.” Schippers said that might amount to about 5,000 individuals — primarily from the data base of both the casino operator and Barstool.
“We do not believe there will be any issues with the volume of players,” Harbach said, “though we always stress to the operator to have another plan to beef up online players if necessary. Having said that, due to Barstool’s very large database and the positive timing of having all four major U.S. sports playing right now, there very well could be more volume than other online launches that were open to the public.”
Don’t expect to see tons of Barstool ads
Barstool is touted as having some 66 million unique viewers of its content on various platforms on a monthly basis, most of whom are relatively young adults with an interest in sports. That is what drove Penn National to make a $163 million investment in the multi-media firm this year.
The nation’s largest regional casino operator is counting on using Barstool’s colorful, sometimes controversial personalities to draw interest to the sportsbook and provide entertainment in addition to betting opportunities.
One advantage of that form of marketing, along with all of the social media promotion that Barstool will provide for the site, is Penn National can avoid spending anywhere near the many millions of dollars that competitors like FanDuel and DraftKings do to saturate airwaves and promote their sites.
Penn National CEO Jay Snowden and Barstool executives made that point in an appearance at the J.P. Morgan Gaming, Lodging, Restaurant & Leisure Management Access Forum Monday.
“Management does not anticipate significant spend on marketing/advertising, and will instead look to convert its differentiated content into sports betting revenues for sustainable revenue conversion,” J.P. Morgan analysts wrote after the forum.
The goal is to challenge FanDuel, DraftKings
While Penn National and Barstool missed the busy first week of the NFL season, their public debut this weekend can take advantage of both NFL and NCAA football, NBA and NHL playoffs, MLB competition, and golf’s U.S. Open.
That combination, created by all of the rescheduling of the sports calendar caused by COVID-19, potentially could be as lucrative as any weekend in history for sportsbooks. Snowden alluded to the prospect in an August conference call with investment analysts when he said the company felt no pressure to launch before the NFL started.
This September is “a heck of a time to be launching your app,” is how he described it last month.
At the same time, it will be interesting to see how much impact the Barstool app can quickly have in a Pennsylvania market dominated by FanDuel and DraftKings, the top operators Penn National has said it wants to challenge not just initially in the Keystone State but in the long run nationally.
In July 2020, when the nine online sites had a collective handle of $155.4 million in Pennsylvania, FanDuel had 44.3% of the market share and DraftKings had 25.2%. The other seven sites combined for about 30%.
It will be hard to measure Penn National’s success in making inroads on the top two until it has had a full month of operations in October and revenue figures for that month are reported in mid-November.
But as of this Friday, most likely, thousands of curious Pennsylvania bettors will log on and begin making their own judgments.
Image courtesy of Penn National