The arrival of the NFL season will bring with it a long-anticipated addition to and shakeup of Pennsylvania’s online sports betting options, but not this week.
Penn National Gaming announced Monday morning that it will launch its new Barstool Sportsbook mobile app with a state-monitored test period from Sept. 15-17, with permanent operation expected to be ready Sept. 18.
The mobile site, the 10th that will be operational in Pennsylvania, has been long anticipated. Penn National officials have said they’ve spent nearly $10 million on the development, which will launch in Pennsylvania before the company’s other states and include rebranding of retail sportsbooks to take on the Barstool name.
Penn National paid $163 million in January to acquire a one-third ownership of Barstool and gain access to its vast database of young, mostly male followers with interest in sports and wagering.
“The Barstool Sportsbook app is the centerpiece of our Company’s omni-channel strategy,” Penn National CEO Jay Snowden said in a press release announcing next week’s launch.
“Since forming our exclusive sports betting and iGaming partnership with Barstool Sports in January, our product, marketing, and operations teams have worked hand-in-hand with Barstool’s top talent, including Dave Portnoy and Dan ‘Big Cat’ Katz, to create a sports betting experience that we’re confident will appeal to Barstool’s army of loyal followers, as well as our extensive database of existing casino customers and sports betting fans at large.”
PNG will be part of unprecedented September activity
Snowden had said in an Aug. 6 conference call with investment analysts to expect the digital platform to debut sometime in September.
Penn National wants to be sure to take advantage of fall football, which receives more betting than any other sport in the U.S. The NFL opens play Thursday night with the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs hosting the Houston Texans.
And in COVID-impacted 2020, September is a more important month than ever for sportsbooks, as NBA and NHL playoffs and golf’s U.S. Open are part of the calendar in addition to football, baseball, and the tennis U.S. Open.
The one downside this month compared to usual is fewer college football games are being played, but record September sports betting handles still seem likely.
In the press release, Penn National said its “soft launch” next week “will be available to a limited number of pre-registered participants, who will be able to make real-money wagers and access all of the features and functionality of the Barstool Sportsbook.”
Home state of PA takes precedence
Penn National, a large national operator with 41 gaming properties in 19 states, resisted whatever deadline pressure might have accompanied this week’s start of the NFL season. Snowden made reference to such thinking in the Aug. 6 conference call, the first time he made clear the app would not be ready in August.
“What’s important to us is getting this right,” Snowden said at the time. “We get one chance to make a first impression. … We’re in this for the long game.”
While it would be possible to launch the app quickly in multiple states that have legalized online sports wagering where Penn National owns properties, that won’t be the case. Snowden indicated during an online interview as part of a gaming conference in July that bettors in states such as Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, New Jersey, and Iowa would have to wait a bit.
The company wants to “kick the tires and make sure we are living up to our expectations,” he said.
Penn National heightened anticipation of the sportsbook app by making its investment in Barstool while promising a sports betting site that would stand out from the rest — not just the nine competitors in Pennsylvania but others nationally.
While Penn National’s own customer data base is filled primarily by middle-aged slots players, it is newly connected to a brash, tech-savvy company that touts it has 66 million unique monthly users of its various platforms.
They are avid followers of Barstool’s big entertainment personalities, including founder Portnoy and commentator Big Cat, who will both be depicted prominently on the sportsbook site with betting picks and other features.
“Online, what we’re planning to do is integrate the personalities into our app,” Snowden said in an online interview in July at the SBC Digital Summit. “You can go online to see what Dave Portnoy is betting on or to bet against him. We feel we can do a lot of personality content, where you go to be entertained, not just bet on sports.”
While FOX Bet also uses well-known personalities in similar fashion, highlighting their betting favorites each week, the Barstool connection will help Penn National separate itself from big online competitors FanDuel and DraftKings. Those two rivals gained an edge in Pennsylvania from having a vast number of customers already engaged with them through their fantasy sports platforms.
Penn National figures it gains a similar advantage — if not one even bigger — from the Barstool audience.
Having Barstool “will lead to meaningful reductions in customer acquisition and promotional costs for our sports betting and online products,” Snowden said when the partnership was announced in January.
FanDuel, DraftKings have strong foothold on market
In Pennsylvania, it is the sizable market share of FanDuel and DraftKings that Penn National is looking to cut into, in addition to growing the market altogether.
Of $155.4 million in online sports betting handle in July among the nine Pennsylvania sites, FanDuel claimed 44.3% of it with $68.8 million, while DraftKings was second in the state with 25.2% from $39.1 million in bets received.
FanDuel, partnering with Valley Forge Casino Resort, has been the state’s leader since launching last summer. DraftKings became the regular runner-up soon after its debut in November through affiliation with the Meadows Racetrack & Casino.
Ironically, it is Penn National Gaming, as Meadows owner, that provided DraftKings a “skin” enabling it to operate in Pennsylvania. Now the company’s sportsbook app will be a big competitor with what DraftKings provides, and at the same time Penn National will continue earning revenue — through their ongoing business arrangement — from whatever success DraftKings has.
Penn National will, like DraftKings, use Kambi to supply odds, so the betting lines may not be different on the two sites, though the operators have the right to tweak what Kambi provides. Kambi is also the odds supplier in Pennsylvania for Unibet, Parx, and the two Rush Street sites — PlaySugarhouse and BetRivers — so the Barstool addition may not be meaningful in the eyes of Pennsylvania sports bettors looking to shop lines.
But presumably, the arrival will push overall betting numbers still higher, helping approach the record month of January 2020, when Pennsylvanians legally wagered a total $348.4 million on sports, including $308.6 million online. Betting plunged in most months since then as a result of COVID-19-related shutdowns and postponements of major sports.
Whether or not that record milestone is surpassed soon with the help of Penn National, the company is eager to finally get in on the online action in its deliberate, unique way.
“This is an important milestone in our Company’s continued evolution to be the leading omni-channel provider of retail and online gaming, live racing, and sports betting entertainment, and we couldn’t be more excited to get underway,” Snowden said in the press release.
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