After nearly crapping out, Penn National Gaming appears to be back on a streak.
Its partnership with Dave Portnoy‘s Barstool Sports at least in part fueled Penn stock’s rise, fall and resurrection from January to June.
Penn National wanted to go big
The roller coaster ride came about because Penn, a top regional gaming company headquartered in the heartland of Pennsylvania just north of Harrisburg — think small-town suburbia set among farm fields and forested small mountains — had bigger aspirations at the start of the year.
What had begun as a family horse racing business wanted to go really big.
Having made itself a presence in nearly every legal US gambling market, with 41 properties and 26,000 employees, Penn was bumping up against economic concentration regulations.
Penn wanted Barstool as an online sports brand
That meant the only way for it to really grow was to tap a new market, a market free of the geographic constraints that came with buying or building yet another property.
On Jan. 29, Penn National rolled the dice and bought a 36% share of the sports-centric, risque and sometimes raunchy blog and podcast business Barstool Sports.
The purchase was for approximately $135 million in cash and $28 million in shares of non-voting convertible preferred stock. Penn swiftly closed the deal after the announcement.
Additionally, Penn National agreed to increase its ownership of Barstool to approximately 50% through an incremental investment of approximately $62 million at the end of three years.
Barstool brings a new demographic to Penn
Jay Snowden, president and CEO of Penn National, spelled out the rationale of buying a company without an internet gambling platform on the company’s website:
“This exciting new partnership with Barstool Sports reflects our strategy to continue evolving from the nation’s largest regional gaming operator, with 41 properties in 19 states, to a best-in-class omnichannel provider of retail and online gaming and sports betting entertainment.
“With its leading digital content, well-known brand and deep roots in sports betting, Barstool Sports is the ideal partner for Penn National and will enable us to attract a new, younger demographic, which will nicely complement our existing customer database.
“In addition, with 66 million monthly unique visitors, we believe the significant reach of Barstool Sports and loyalty of its audience will lead to meaningful reductions in customer acquisition and promotional costs for our sports betting and online products, significantly enhancing profitability and driving value for our shareholders.”
Coronavirus disrupts the plan — and Penn’s stock value
And on paper, the plan worked at first.
The stock, which had hovered in the $25 to $26 range at the start of the year, hit $38.28 a share on Feb. 13.
Then came COVID-19 and an existential crisis for Penn stock, which bottomed at $4.52 on March 18.
Casinos shut down. Horse tracks shut down. Penn furloughed most employees. Two PA expansion projects, mini-casinos, stopped construction. Assets were sold. A huge stock offering followed to raise cash.
Penn casino reopenings coincide with rising stock price
But now properties are reopening. Employees are returning. But at least at least 1,900 Penn jobs at casinos are gone for good as the company pivots toward online wagering. Resuming work on the mini-casinos in York and Morgantown still awaits, though.
Meanwhile, Penn is rebranding its retail books to carry the Barstool name. Its mothership casino in PA, Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course, is back up and running, and the company is working to create an online presence based on the Barstool brand.
In fact, despite recently announced permanent layoffs, the company is on a hiring tear.
On Monday, CNBC’s Jim Cramer remotely hosted Snowden of Penn, along with Portnoy and Barstool CEO Erika Nardini, on his program The Street.
And while Cramer briefly discussed Penn stock’s up, down and up record so far this year, he only spoke of Barstool and the coronavirus shutdown when laying out the context.
Penn plans August launch of Barstool online betting app
Snowden told Cramer that Penn had 70% of its properties operating at 50% capacity and had called back 11,000 employees. No mention was made of the permanent job losses.
Snowden also told Cramer that the Barstool online book should launch in August. The target would put Penn ahead of the anticipated NFL start.
Nardini spoke of Barstool’s growth across platforms and the devoted audience it delivers.
Davey Day Trader moves the market again
Portnoy, uncharacteristically wearing a suit (brokers referred to as “suits” are frequent targets of his diatribes), predicted that Barstool will be the “dominant player” once sports return.
He boasted later that night on Twitter to his 1.5 million followers:
“I just sold the shit out of myself in Penn National.”
By the next day, Penn’s stock was up more than 17% at midday. Penn closed up about $5 a share, or just under 13%, at $36.82. Several market stories took note.
Two days later, the price has mostly played in the $33 range.
Since his highly publicized shift to “Davey Day Trader Global,” Portnoy has demonstrated an ability to influence stock prices, presumably through his “stoolies” who have followed him into the market. His latest national appearance is yet another example of the “Barstool effect” at work, some say.
Penn National’s imminent expansion into online sports wagering and the long-term stability of the stock price should provide a more accurate picture of the company’s position in the months to come.