Michigan Itching For Barstool Sportsbook, Sports Bars

Posted on February 13, 2020

DETROIT — Dave Portnoy doing a One Bite Pizza Review at Greektown’s PizzaPapalis? Big Cat and PFT taping Pardon My Take podcast episodes a short walk from Comerica Park?

Whatever presence Barstool Sports brings to downtown Detroit, one thing seems clear after its recent acquisition by Greektown Casino-Hotel owner Penn National Gaming. There’s a substantial interest in the bombastic website and men’s lifestyle brand.

The “Stoolies” are coming.

Barstool Sports has an undeniably loyal fanbase. Penn National is betting its youthful following will soon flood Barstool-branded casinos, which will likely include Greektown.

“You will see Barstool retail sportsbooks at all of our casinos where it’s legal, and you will likely see Barstool sports bars throughout our properties as well,” Penn National CEO Jay Snowden told Jim Cramer of CNBC’s Mad Money on Jan. 29.

Greektown is set to open its book on March 10.

Target in Michigan is still St. Patrick’s Day

Sports gambling and iGaming were legalized in Michigan on Dec. 20 when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed gambling expansion bills into law.

Casinos are still waiting for the approval of rules from the Michigan Gaming Control Board, however.

Officials have said the target date for approval is the start of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, which begins March 17.

Things are moving even faster at Greektown, where Marvin Beatty, vice president of community and public relations, said the March 10 ribbon cutting is planned at a temporary area in the old poker room.

The lounge is up a flight of stairs and set apart from the main casino space on the third floor.

After that, construction will begin for the sportsbook’s permanent spot in the middle of the casino. Beatty said the hope is to open there by the Kentucky Derby.

“We’ll go aggressively to get it open,” Beatty said. “It’ll move very quickly.”

Penn National, which has 41 properties in 19 states, purchased a 36% interest in Barstool Sports on Jan. 29 for $163 million to become the site’s exclusive gaming partner.

Penn Interactive growing

Jon Kaplowitz, head of Penn Interactive, told Legal Sports Report last month that Penn National has 14 retail sportsbooks nationwide. That number is expected to grow closer to 20 by the end of the year.

Barstool Sports, founded by Portnoy in 2003 as a sports gambling newspaper, has grown into a global enterprise of blogs, podcasts, radio, video and social content.

Barstool has 7.6 million followers on Instagram and 2.1 million on Twitter.

According to the investor deck from a conference call after the agreement, Barstool’s internal data suggests 62% of “Stoolies” bet on sports, with 44% betting at least once a week.

Finding a target audience

The company has had its share of detractors over the years with claims of misogyny and Portnoy’s recent threats to fire employees who threatened to unionize.

He settled last month with the National Labor Relations Board to take down his threatening tweets, among other anti-union material.

But much of Barstool’s core audience — known as “Stoolies” — fits right into the demographic coveted by brick-and-mortar casinos, which are steadily losing millennials and other young adults.

Beatty said he expects a 30%-40% increase in business from the 35-and-younger set. Many of those people are sports gambling already, often illegally.

“People who are already sports bettors are already involved in that arena that we would not normally have,” Beatty said. “The value in that investment just expands the pool of those people.”

Penn National bought Greektown Casino last year from Jack Entertainment LLC. Jack Entertainment is an arm of the Dan Gilbert enterprise, which also encompasses much of downtown Detroit and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

MGM Grand Detroit has already opened up its Moneyline Sports Lounge, meanwhile, which is ready for wagers when given the word.

The city’s third venue, MotorCity Casino, has not yet announced plans for its sports betting operation.

Snowden also said Penn National plans to introduce a sports betting app in August, though the state gaming board would have to approve mobile betting for it to be available in Michigan. IGaming will likely follow after the board’s approval of online casinos.

Barstool brand is stronger than ever

Jimmy Falcon, 25, of Detroit, left Greektown Casino late Tuesday with friends Jeff Parder and Chris Vanstien, also of Detroit.

Falcon said he follows Barstool on Twitter. He’s familiar with Portnoy’s pizza reviews and said the Barstool brand would make him more likely to visit.

“I think it’d be a good little theme, something else to get in here, especially for sports fans,” Falcon said. “I think it’d be cool to check out.”

Matt Schoch Avatar
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Matt Schoch

A Michigan native, Matt has worked at newspapers in Michigan, Missouri and the Virgin Islands. A versatile sports reporter, Matt has covered sailing on the Great Lakes, cricket in the Caribbean, high school and pro playoffs, and the Olympics in Rio. He's also the host of the Locked On Pistons Podcast and producer of a documentary on Emoni Bates. A former blackjack dealer, Matt has studied the industry from all sides.

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