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MA Regulators Could Punish PENN For Rece Davis ESPN Betting Remark

Bill Speros for Bookies.com

Bill Speros  | 5 mins

MA Regulators Could Punish PENN For Rece Davis ESPN Betting Remark

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The Massachusetts Gaming Commission on Thursday said it will hold a formal adjudicatory hearing into a gambling-related remark made by ESPN analyst Rece Davis during a College Game Day telecast on March 24.

During a betting-focused segment, Davis used the phrase “risk-free investment” when discussing a pick made by ESPN Bet analyst Erin Dolan.

An MGC adjudicatory hearing could result in a civil penalty for PENN Entertainment or possible suspension of the PENN-owned-and-operated ESPN BET-branded online sportsbook in Massachusetts. The hearing will be scheduled at a future time.

"You know what? Some would call this wagering, gambling; the way you've sold this, I think what it is, is a risk-free investment," Davis said after Dolan picked the under on 60.5 points for Northwestern in its game against UConn.

UConn won, 70-58.

Davis' quip triggered concerns about the grey area created by ESPN lending its name to a legal sports book as a marketing partner. 

David later stressed the risks involved in betting.

"Obviously, there are risks," Davis wrote in a post on X. "Though I’m not a gambler, I strongly encourage those who do partake, do so with prudence, care, caution, fiscal and personal responsibility and never over-extend." 

Davis further clarified himself on "The Pat McAfee Show." 

“I don’t want to make this a big deal. It was just a small segment, it was a throwaway line. Any reasonable person knew I was being facetious, because there’s nothing in life that comes without risk, especially gambling. That’s obvious for anyone who knows anything,” Davis said.

The lack of a formal apology could be an issue with the fastidious MGC.  

"Reminds Me Of The Can't Lose Parlay" 

The remark by Davis could be considered as a violation of the MGC regulations 205 CMR 256.04(6)(c) and 205 CMR 256.04(6)(d) - which prohibit sports betting operators or their partners recommending specific wagers, and prohibit the use terms like "risk free" in marketing or advertising. 

Regulators unanimously agreed a full hearing was warranted. 

"This reminds me of the 'can't lose parlay' with Barstool," Commission Eileen O'Brien said during the MGC's regularly scheduled meeting. “And this is something I’ve been waiting to come up. I want to see is this a one-off, or have there been other references in this vein? It’s an area that I, as one commissioner, am concerned about, sort of this cross-pollination between the ESPN commentators and then the lines and the betting and the commentary that they make. So I would like to do a deep-dive.” 

When the PENN-owned-Barstool online book launched on March 10, 2023, it briefly promoted what was called a "Can't Lose Parlay." The offer was quickly taken down. PENN said the CLP was tongue-in-cheek shot at the purported betting ineptitude of Barstool's Dan Katz.

A hearing on the “Can’t Lose Parlay” last June turned into a circus. Attorneys for PENN cited a “Cap’n Crunch Crunch Berries” defense in defending the offer. And openly trashed the handicapping skills of Katz. 

Penn has been under a Massachusetts regulatory microscope since it opened the Barstool-branded retail and online sportsbook in 2023. Penn sold Barstool back to David Portnoy for $1 in August. PENN entered into a 10-year branding agreement with ESPN. It’s ESPN Bet book launched across 17 states this past November.

The marriage between PENN and Barstool struck some as odd at the outset. But the Barstool brand was coveted due to its ability to attract and develop deep and loyal relationships with those in the sports betting sweet spot: Men between the ages of 21-34. 

For a variety of reasons, the two companies were unable to leverage the loyalty Barstool fans had for “The Pirate Ship” to activity in the legal sports betting space. 

Portnoy said his company struggled with the limits of the regulated gaming space. Barstool was under fire in Ohio and Massachusetts even before it launched in those two lucrative states. 

Other MGC Moves

The MGC’s Investigative and Enforcement Bureau offered updates on potential wagering non compliance issues featuring FanDuel, and another matter concerning Penn’s owned-books in the state. FanDuel allegedly took three futures wagers on the BC men’s basketball team before the NCAA Tournament field was set. State law prohibits betting on state college teams not involved in a tournament. Those bets totaled $11. 

The Barstool and ESPN Bet-branded book owned by Penn also allegedly took 249 wagers from teams in leagues not approved for wagering in the state from November 6, 2023, and December 9, 2023. During that span, it operated under both the ESPN BET and Barstool banners. Those bets totaled $12,075.83. The MGC sent that item back to the IEB for further review. 

About the Author

Bill Speros for Bookies.com
Bill Speros
Bill Speros is an award-winning journalist and editor whose career includes stops at USA Today Sports Network / Golfweek, Cox Media, ESPN, Orlando Sentinel and Denver Post.