‘Everything is on the table’ should gaming regulators confront misogyny, racism

By: - November 18, 2021 6:11 am

Dave Portnoy, founder of Barstool Sports, onstage at an event in Texas in 2017. (Photo by John Parra/Getty Images for Barstool Sports)

After Penn National Gaming, the company that owns the M Resort in Las Vegas, bought Barstool Sports in 2020, Penn’s president and CEO Jay Snowden described Barstool founder Dave Portnoy and squad as “sort of a meshing of SportsCenter, Howard Stern and reality TV. It’s a sports media company. But at the end of the day these are entertainers, they create content, they’re comedians …”

Portnoy’s schtick includes a “joke” about raping women.  

“I never condone rape,” he said in 2010. “But if you’re a size six and you’re wearing skinny jeans, you kind of deserve to be raped.” 

“Correct. I stand by that. I think it’s a funny joke,” Portnoy later told a reporter. 

“Do you understand how offensive that is?” the reporter asked.  

“No, I obviously don’t,” Portnoy responded. 

And there’s the one about former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick. 

“Throw a head wrap on this guy and he’s a terrorist,” Portnoy has said repeatedly. 

It’s not like PNG married a stranger when it partnered last year with Barstool Sports.  

The book on Portnoy, known for foul-mouthed musings, misogynistic mutterings and racist rants, had already been written. Yet, Penn paid $163 million in cash and convertible preferred stock to buy 36% of Barstool Sports, “a leading digital sports, entertainment, lifestyle, and media company,” according to PNG’s website, which pegs Barstool’s audience at “over 66 million loyal fans.”

The move made Portnoy, who had already sold off majority ownership of the company, a multimillionaire and a major stockholder in PNG. The exact amount of his ownership is unknown. 

PNG operates sportsbooks under the name Barstool Sportsbooks.

“We obviously spent a lot of time doing diligence on Barstool and we got really comfortable making an investment in Barstool,” PNG’s Snowden said last year.

In April, Penn stock plummeted as a sex tape circulated the Internet, reportedly showing Portnoy yanking the leash of a collared woman.  

“Penn stock is down because there’s a sex tape of me? Hey, news flash. It’s the third f…ing one. I used to sling it,” Portnoy said in a video response released on social media, the weight of his corporate responsibility seemingly eluding him. “More importantly. Down? A stock is down because somebody has consensual sex? Are you f…ing kidding me? I would jump on this dip and I would f— it.  No pun intended.”  

Portnoy dispensed investment advice again this month after Penn stock dropped once more, this time after the announcement of disappointing earnings, and a story in Business Insider in which two women say they went to Portnoy’s home where they engaged in rough sex.

In a video posted last week, Portnoy denies the allegations and has presented texts he says contradict the claims. He also points out the story does not include a police report later tweeted by BI.

“You gotta shut up,” Portnoy said he’s been told by his attorneys. “You’ve been accused of serious shit. Just shut up. Don’t even say you know the girls.” 

But it’s the utterances and acts Portnoy admits and defends that could give Penn National Gaming fits in the future. 

Barstool Sports did not respond to requests for comment from the Current, but in the past the company has said it is “not in the business of managing our employees’ personal lives, but we have made sure to have specific processes in place that encourage our colleagues to confidentially share any concerns they might have about their work environment.”

Penn also did not respond to requests for comment. 

Market Watch reported last week “Penn’s stock has tumbled 32.6% year to date, while shares of Boyd Gaming Corp. have rallied 44.9%, Caesars Entertainment Inc. have climbed 41.9%, Golden Entertainment Inc. have soared 153.8% and Red Rock Resorts Inc. have shot up 102.1%. The S&P 500 index has climbed 24.5% over the same time.”

Earlier this month, Barstool Sports and Penn lost out on bids for New York licenses to operate mobile sports betting operations.  

New York authorities approved groups including Bally Bet, BetMGM, Caesars, and Wynn Interactive. DraftKings and FanDuel, also approved in New York, were forced out of Nevada several years ago for not being licensed.  They have applied for Nevada gambling licenses, according to PlayUSA. 

It’s unknown whether Portnoy’s utterances and actions played a role in the New York denial. It’s also unknown how Penn’s partnership with Portnoy may affect its efforts to expand on the Las Vegas Strip.  

“I think that these questions do demonstrate how the regulatory expectations have evolved over the past few years,” says academic and author David G. Schwartz. “Theoretically, the Commission has complete power to deny someone a license if, in its opinion, their presence is contrary to the reputation of Nevada gaming.”

“In years past, gaming regulators were occupied with the regulation of gaming, cheating, skimming and the elimination of corruptive influences, rather than the sensitivities relating to personal conduct or speech,” attorney and former Nevada Gaming Control Board member Jeff Silver said during an interview last week. “That’s a somewhat recent phenomenon following (Harvey) Weinstein, (Jeffrey) Epstein and (Steve) Wynn abuses and the spate of racial inequity claims.”

In 2017, Nevada regulators either failed to discover or were intentionally silent when they approved Apollo Global Management’s 2017 bankruptcy restructuring and sale of Caesars Entertainment without publicly mentioning $158 million paid by then-Apollo CEO and Chairman Leon Black to Jeffrey Epstein during the company’s reign over the Caesars’ empire.  Regulators were also mum on Black’s $100,000 a month payments, starting in 2015, to a woman to keep quiet about their relationship.  Black is reportedly under investigation by the New York District Attorney for allegations of rape, according to a story in Vanity Fair citing sources. 

Black is no longer a company executive but holds a controlling 23% share of the company’s preferred voting stock. His attorney, Susan Estrich, says he’s not required to apply for licensing in Apollo’s bid to purchase LV Sands for $6.5 billion.  

Gaming regulators declined to comment.  

‘Fitness to hold a license’

On Thursday, former Clark County District Judge Jennifer Togliatti will become the first woman to chair the Nevada Gaming Commission, the policy arm of the state’s regulatory apparatus. 

Decorum, character and integrity among applicants may enjoy a renaissance under her watch.  

Jeniffer Togliatti during a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in March 2020. (Judiciary Committee screengrab)

“Specifically disclaiming any comment on any particular person or their allegations against them, because it could come before the commission, I will say this —  everything’s on the table for consideration and I think anything related to the fitness to hold a license, the fitness to conduct gaming business in the state is open for examination and discussion,” she told the Current via phone. “And that would include those kinds of complaints.”

The background check is the “cornerstone of Nevada’s licensing scheme,” says former casino executive and regulator Richard Schuetz, because of its importance in branding the industry and indicating future behavior of licensees.

“The Gaming Control Board clearly wants to say ‘yes,” Schuetz said of the Apollo purchase of LV Sands during a panel presented by Culinary Local 226. “But they want to be very careful doing this.”

“It’s difficult to foresee which way this could go,” says Schwartz. “On one hand, AGM has been involved with Nevada gaming for some time now, so may be considered a known quantity. On the other hand, so was Steve Wynn, and he is no longer a licensee. It’s understandable that those outside the process might want to bring this to the surface.”

Wynn was forced to relinquish his gaming empire when decades of sexual harassment of employees and secret payoffs came to light as a result of reporting by the Wall Street Journal. 

“It’s also possible that Mr. Portnoy’s statements might attract more scrutiny as well, given the current climate,” says Schwartz. “It will be interesting to see how both these scenarios play out.”

Togliatti takes over at what some say is a critical juncture, as gaming regulators balance the need to maintain the integrity of i-gaming and mobile sports betting while not stifling expansion.  

“It’s such an interesting and also challenging time to have the gaming industry wanting to break into technology based-gaming and balancing the ability to effectively supervise and maintain the integrity that is so important to our state, while allowing for advancements and market growth,” Togliatti said.      

Internet gambling, valued worldwide at $53.7 billion in 2019, is expected to grow at a compounded annual rate of 11.5 percent until 2027, according to a market analysis report

Companies such as DraftKings and FanDuel hope to expand mobile betting to table games other than poker, the only game currently allowed by Nevada regulators.  

Web sports betting, legal in 15 states, offers mobility to gamblers, but Nevada law requires participants to register in person at a participating casino. 

New Jersey passed the $1 billion mark for sports betting revenue in September, according to Gaming Today

Nevada could certainly hit that mark before the year is up after seeing significant growth in sports wagering,” the publication wrote last week. 

The testosterone flooding the industry with the advent of legal sports betting in other states doesn’t phase Togliatti, who attended a Raiders game recently. 

“There were a lot of women that were very excited to be there and to be participating, and my guess is maybe they’ve placed a few bets in their lives,” she notes.

While she doesn’t gamble and admits to having a resulting learning curve, she’s accustomed to doing the hard work. 

“What I lack in experience I make up for in commitment,” she says, noting she’s given up courtroom drama in favor of viewing YouTube videos of commission meetings. “You know, you’d be surprised how much I’ve learned just watching old meetings.”

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Dana Gentry
Dana Gentry

Dana Gentry is a native Las Vegan and award-winning investigative journalist. She is a graduate of Bishop Gorman High School and holds a Bachelor's degree in Communications from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.