Four months ago, Penn Entertainment and Barstool Sports paid a $250,000 fine to the Ohio Casino Control Commission after Barstool’s most visible personalities broadcast a mid-November college football preview show from the University of Toledo campus.
The OCCC found the company had violated two provisions of the state’s gaming regulations by advertising sports betting to college students and to underage consumers.
So far as anyone can tell, nobody lost their jobs.
The actual show that cost the company that money is actually still available to hear on its site.
The company’s chief compliance officer, Chris Soriano, even meticulously avoided a public apology. “In this matter we fell short of the mark. We accept responsibility for that,” Soriano wrote in a statement.
Penn Entertainment, the parent of Penn Sports Interactive and Barstool Sports, went right ahead amid all of that to launch its betting app in the Buckeye State without delay.
Does this sound like a company suffering from acute anxiety that its gambling license could be pulled at any minute over any real or perceived infraction?
No. But then there’s the case of Barstool personality Ben Mintz, aka Mintzy, who was summarily fired last week after he uttered the n-word, unredacted, while reciting some rap lyrics. He did something momentary and accidental, and he took immediate, sincere responsibility.
He’s a goner and legions of straight, white male listeners who already think the world is terribly unfair to them just got a new data point to lean on for their misplaced rage.
What a mess.
Gambling-related infractions can be paid, but accidental slur is fatal
Let me say first that I am a gay man with a Black 1-year-old daughter. I don’t condone the use of any slurs and believe there should be consequences. So, no, I’m not one of those white guys who reflexively cries “woke!” whenever some social justice concept asserts itself. I believe deeply in whatever the haters think “woke” means.
I’d also never heard of Mintzy before last week. I’ve never actually heard a single minute of Barstool programming. I’m not a fan of Dave Portnoy not because he’s a smug loudmouth but because he led so many people astray with his full-throated enthusiasm for crypto currency. He should really have stuck to pizza recommendations.
But my impression of Mintzy’s situation is that he did precisely what we want public figures to do when they’ve made a serious mistake. He looked visibly shaken by his own error in the moments after it happened and took to social media to self-flagellate:
“This morning, I made an unforgivable mistake slipping on air while reading a song lyric. I meant no harm & have never felt worse about anything. I apologize for my actions. I am truly sorry & ashamed of myself.”
Penn Entertainment bought out Barstool over the past year. Presumably, it did so because it understood they had purchased a media company with a massive audience that overlapped with the sort of customers they want signing up for their apps and playing in their casinos.
But now, according to Portnoy, they are terrified that keeping someone on who muttered the n-word and showed exactly the right sort of contrition will lead to a cascade of cancellations of gambling licenses across the nation.
Seriously? The company that shrugged off and paid for its sins in Ohio as the state was about to launch thinks this is going to devastate its entire business? That wasn’t even the first time Penn Entertainment had transgressed. In 2021, the company, doing business as Mountainview Thoroughbred Racing Association, was fined $82,500 by Pennsylvania regulators for allowing self-excluded individuals to access and gamble on its apps and for allowing people under the ages of 21 access to one of its brick-and-mortar casino floor.
Precedent sets up Penn, Barstool with unattainable standard
There were plenty of options available to Penn to deal with Mintzy. It could have issued a strongly worded statement warning Barstool personalities. It could have fined Mintzy. It could have suspended him for some period of time.
Instead, it got rid of him in the service of proving to regulators it takes these kinds of infractions super-duper seriously. Regulators, mind you, who have done absolutely nothing anywhere in America to show they’re concerned about the deeper questions of racial injustice and inequity in the industry.
Even in Maryland, which held up its launch of sports betting to try to figure out how to help diversify ownership and upper management, eventually just went ahead with licensing all the usual, mostly white, suspects.
Firing Mintzy is not racial justice. We want people who make mistakes to acknowledge them, to role-model contrition, to grow. And in his case, it’s not as if he used the n-word in a self-generated, angry or actually racist context. He was singing someone else’s lyrics.
OK, he shouldn’t have. But I tend to agree with Portnoy, who fears this could be the “death blow” for Barstool, a brand built on renegade, though not offensive, content.
And what’s next? Someone going to run every hour of Barstool audio and video content through a transcription program to see if anyone’s used the f-word? The b-word? The c-word?
It’s all a slippery slope, and it’s been greased by a gambling conglomerate that isn’t even that serious about racial justice. Penn had an opportunity to advance that cause by embracing Mintzy’s apology and showing how to act in such a moment.
Someone really believes regulators would collapse its business over this? When all they did was level a fine and not even demand apologies for actual violations related to gambling? Come on.
Penn blew a teachable moment here. And that’s a shame.
Read more from the State of Play column:
- Las Vegas Doesn’t Need A Losing MLB Team To Be Relevant (playusa.com)
- Sports Betting Hall of Fame Induction of Michael Gaughan Long Overdue
- How An Anti-Abortion, Anti-Weed Conservative Became A Leading Pro-Gambling Voice In Kentucky
- NFL Has A Lot To Answer To Over Sports Betting Rules And Suspensions
- Gambling Goes Green In The Vegas Desert