Last Friday’s Rough ’N Rowdy main event was anything but.
Jose Canseco went down in about a dozen seconds against a Barstool Sports intern, allegedly collecting over $1 million for his trouble in the latest celebrity boxing spectacle.
The fight’s promoter, who doubles as the face of a regulated Michigan sports betting operator that took action in the state on the event, claimed later that Canseco “took a dive.”
This time, no Michigan bettors took a loss on the event.
But what about next time? The chairman of the West Virginia state commission told PlayMichigan they are investigating the events in question and have not committed to sanctioning future Rough ‘N Rowdy cards.
As discussions about future celebrity fights are swirling around Barstool, it’s worth taking a look back at the strange event and to wonder whether Michigan bettors should be in on the action going forward.
Jose Canseco fight lasted shorter than a roulette spin
Canseco, the 56-year-old former slugger, took to the ring against “Billy Football,” a Barstool intern in the Rough ’N Rowdy 13 main event in Charles Town, W.V.
The event was hosted by Hollywood Casino, which is owned by Penn National Gaming. It was a natural fit as Rough ’N Rowdy is a Barstool property, and Penn owns a 36% stake in Barstool, its online gambling partner.
Canseco and Billy Football went after each other on social media in preparation for the event, which carried a $20 streaming fee for Stoolies worldwide.
A win-win-win, until fight night.
Canseco went after his 22-year-old opponent at first, then tried to wrap him up while getting hit with a flurry. He ended up falling in the corner and quit the fight.
— Rough N’ Rowdy (@roughnrowdy) February 7, 2021
Michigan bettors were in on the action
Michigan sports betting launched on Jan. 22, and the Barstool Sportsbook was one of 10 operators on the starting line.
Barstool founder Dave Portnoy and others have spent time recently in Michigan pumping the brand through its partnership with Detroit’s Greektown Casino, another Penn property.
In addition to professional boxing matches through the IBF, WBA, WBC, and WBO, the Michigan Gaming Control Board also approved wagers on fights approved by state athletic commissions (sanctioned fights only).
Rough ’N Rowdy 13 was sanctioned by the State Athletic Commission in West Virginia, which was noted by MGCB spokesperson Mary Kay Bean.
Leon Ramsey, the commission’s chairman, said an investigation is underway into the match. Rough ‘N Rowdy cards are sanctioned on an event-by-event basis and no future dates are currently on the calendar. The commission, made up of appointees of the governor, will review future events as they apply.
Applications for sanctioning are due within 30 days of an event, Ramsey said, and he expects the investigation to last a few weeks.
“I think everybody was expecting a better fight, and then something like this,” he said. “Of course I feel it would need a little further looking into for sure.”
Rough ’N Rowdy wasn’t always a Barstool brand
Rough ’N Rowdy was a small-town West Virginia tradition long before it caught Barstool’s eyes.
The annual event in rural West Virginia, which the Washington Post profiled in 2017 in the “forgotten town” of Welch, pitted untrained fighters against others in town, sometimes opposite childhood friends.
Complete with crowds cheering for their favored ring girl, the first weekend of March became a Welch festival akin to a county fair.
Barstool purchased the entity later in 2017, turning it into a pay-per-view event and adding its own flair.
Portnoy: Canseco received over $1 million on the fight
Not surprisingly, Portnoy elevated the controversy afterward.
Portnoy disclosed that Jose Canseco made over $1 million in the event, which broke their records for pay-per-view buys.
“Jose 100% took a dive,” Portnoy tweeted. “We paid half up front and he got double if he won. We thought that would ensure he’d fight. We were wrong.”
Jose 100% took a dive. We paid half up front and he got double if he won. We thought that would ensure he’d fight. We were wrong.
— Dave Portnoy (@stoolpresidente) February 6, 2021
Michigan bettors were refunded losing Jose Canseco bets
Barstool Sportsbook posted a market for Jose Canseco and Billy Football, with each at +400 odds to win on a $10 maximum bet. The proceeds from losing bets would go to The Barstool Fund, Portnoy announced, which helps struggling small businesses during the pandemic.
— Dave Portnoy (@stoolpresidente) February 5, 2021
After the fight, Barstool Sportsbook paid out the Billy Football bets and voided the Canseco bets, giving customers a $10 refund.
We have already voided all bets on Jose Canceso at RnR 13. All wagers on Billy Football will be graded a win.
— Barstool Sportsbook (@BSSportsbook) February 6, 2021
No refund was issued for the $20 pay-per-view.
Jeff Morris, a spokesperson for PNG, called the wager a “promotional” one, in a statement to PlayMichigan. He noted that even though the Canseco bets were voided, the amount bet on the former Oakland A’s star was still donated to The Barstool Fund.
“At the conclusion of the title fight, it appeared that the losing fighter was either injured or did not participate in good faith,” Morris said. “Regardless of which was the case, the Barstool Sportsbook determined the wager was not appropriate to remain as originally graded and immediately voided all losing wagers, paid out winning wagers, and matched losing wagers with a donation to the Barstool Fund.”
New Michigan sports betting industry doesn’t need controversy
Sports betting took years to get approved by the Michigan state legislature.
Then, after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed expanded gambling laws in December 2019, there was another 13 months before online sports betting launched.
That’s all well and good, as part of the delays were to make sure the practice is lawful and respectable. But the last thing the industry needs is legitimacy questions. Operators and decision-makers must decide if the revenue raised by gimmick events is worth the trouble.
The Jose Canseco fight was not booked in Pennsylvania, the other state Barstool Sportsbook serves online. It’s not clear if any other operators or physical sportsbooks took action on the fight.
But let’s put all of the above into clear terms:
- Barstool put on and promoted the Canseco fight.
- Barstool Sportsbook took bets on the fight.
- The founder of Barstool Sports and the face of Barstool Sportsbook insisted Canseco threw the fight for some reason.
Refunded bets on Canseco or not, this is a pretty awful look for regulated sports betting.
Now it looks like West Virginia will be looking into the fight more closely, as should Michigan.