To understand Penn National Gaming today, grasping its long history is key to understanding how a single racecourse in rural Pennsyltucky came to be the largest pari-mutuel racing company and largest regional gaming company in the United States.
Here, we take a look at a timeline of Penn’s history broken into three eras. PlayPennsylvania has an in-depth rundown on each time period.
Early years leading to the creation of Penn National
1969: Patriarch Peter D. Carlino, a Philly-born florist with interests in insurance and the mortgage business, bought Penn Title Insurance Company, an underwriting company based in Reading since 1929. He continued to live in the greater Philadelphia area, but Wyomissing, an hour’s drive away, became the center of his business’s empire.
1971: Carlino formed Mountainview Thoroughbred Racing Association, which ran a thoroughbred meet in Grantville, PA, from its opening in 1972. The Pennsylvania National Turf Club initially operated the track.
1974: What was first known as Keystone Park opened in Bensalem, PA, just outside Philly, aided by Carlino’s financing, a minority shareholder. Carlino served as the first president. The track later became Philadelphia Park and now is Parx Racing.
1982: Carlino bought the Grantville racetrack property, which in 1994 became the basis for creating Penn National Gaming.
1983: Penn began using telephone account wagering after a PA law change.
1994: Penn reorganized and became a public company. The founder’s son, Peter M. Carlino, oversaw the IPO, and he became CEO, a position he held until 2013, though he remained chairman. The stock sale raised $18 million. Cash paid for the construction of OTB facilities, and debt was paid down.
Expansion & acquisition for Penn began with tracks, then casinos
1996: The year was a pivot point with the purchase of the Pocono Downs track and an OTW facility. The company had built its own first OTW in 1991. The Pocono Downs buy set in motion a series of track acquisitions by Penn. The Pocono track is now part of Mohegan Sun Pocono.
1997: Penn purchased Charles Town Races in West Virginia, added slots, and renamed it Charles Town Races and Slots.
1999: Penn bought 50% ownership in New Jersey’s Freehold Racetrack.
2000: Penn made the first of many casino purchases, Casino Magic Bay St. Louis and Boomtown Biloxi in Mississippi.
2001: Penn acquired Casino Rouge in Louisiana and Casino Rama’s management contract in Ontario, Canada.
2002: Penn acquired Bullwhackers Casino in Black Hawk, Colorado.
Penn made big buys involving Hollywood Casinos followed by Argosy
2003: Penn acquired Hollywood Casinos Corp. and its casinos in Aurora, Illinois, Shreveport, Louisiana and Tunica, Mississippi. The price was $328 million, plus $360 million in assumed debt.
2005: Penn acquired Argosy Gaming. The buy included casinos in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Missouri. The price was $1.4 billion plus$791 million in assumed debt. Argosy added five casinos and one horse track to its portfolio.
2005: Penn became the third-largest publicly held gaming company in the country, behind only MGM Mirage and Harrah’s Entertainment.
Part 2: Failed deals precede mass Penn expansion
Penn crapped out in a bid to buy Harrah’s and then an attempt to go private
2006: Penn National Gaming failed in an attempt to acquire Harrah’s Entertainment.
2006: Kevin DeSanctis, president and the chief operating officer from 2001 during the company’s growth period, left Penn in October to oversee the ill-fated Revel Casino in Atlantic City.
2007-2008: An attempt to take Penn private through a $6.1 billion buyout fell through.
Hollywood Casino opened in PA in 2008
2008: Hollywood Casino opened at Penn National in Grantsville on February 12th. The location adjoins their track.
2008: Tim Wilmott, a former top executive at Harrah’s, became the company’s COO and later CEO, the beginning of a transition moving away from Carlino family control.
2010: Table games began operation at Hollywood in Grantsville.
2012: The Reading Eagle newspaper reported Peter M. Carlino’s compensation was $12.5 million in pay, stock, and benefits.
2013: Founder Peter D. Carlino died in December. But the Carlino family remained involved in the company via a family trust and the continuing presence of Peter M. Carlino.
Birth of a real estate investment trust, GLPI
2013: Penn separated most operating assets into two components, Penn, and also a real estate investment trust, GLPI, or Gaming and Leisure Properties, Inc. The innovation still runs under Peter M. Carlino’s oversight. The division between operations and real estate would become fairly common for casino companies and offers huge tax advantages.
2015: The company bought Tropicana Las Vegas for $360 million, only to sell it to GLPI at a $52.5 loss five years later.
2018: Hollywood Casino became the first PA casino to offer sports betting.
2018: Penn acquired Pinnacle Entertainment for $2.8 billion in cash and stock. The result was twelve new Penn properties, all leased from GLPI.
Part 3: Jay Snowden ushers in online gambling era for Penn
Carlino and Wilmott out, online wagering begins
2019: The company began an online casino (Hollywood) available to those in PA. Peter M. Carlino had acknowledged online was the coming thing, but had resisted entering that vertical during his tenure.
2019: Antitrust concerns forced Carlino out of control of the company he’d been with as chairman since 1994. Since 2013, he’d served as the head of both Penn and GLPI, but the purchase of Pinnacle meant Clayton Antitrust Act issues. He stepped down a year later. But he remains in charge of GLPI and has a non-voting emeritus position on Penn’s board.
2019: Wilmott, who served as chairman of the American Gaming Association, announced his planned departure in August and left at the close of the year.
Snowden refocuses company with Barstool buy-in
2020: Jay Snowden (pictured right), a former Caesars executive who was CEO and then president of Penn, succeeded Wilmott in early January. There were additional executive changes during the transition period.
2020: In late January, the company announced it bought a 36% stake in the often brash sports blog Barstool Sports created by Dave Portnoy for $163 million. With the deal came an option for Penn to increase its Barstool stake up to full ownership in three years.
2020: $PENN stock jumped from around $25 to $37 a share after the Barstool deal. And then the stock tanked to the $3 range in the face of pandemic closings before a slow recovery over the summer. But the much-anticipated September launch of the Barstool sportsbook app turned things around. Shares flirted with $100 toward the end of 2020. Then hit more than $105 a share in the second week of January.
2020: The year closed out with Portnoy recasting his image as a philanthropist with a $500,000 donation and then with Penn joining in with a $1 million pledge to the Barstool Fund to aid small businesses hammered by the virus.
2020: The first retail Barstool Sports-branded sportsbook launched at Ameristar Casino in Black Hawk, CO in November.
2021: The company in January launched an online casino and a Barstool online sportsbook in Michigan.
2021: On March 1, Penn’s stock hit a daytime high of $127.41 a share, closing at $126.26. That’s about a 380% increase in a year.
Penn National properties
Penn National operates more than 40 facilities in 19 jurisdictions. Penn National’s properties feature approximately 50,000 gaming machines, 1,300 table games, and 8,800 hotel rooms, and more than 20,000 employees.
Here’s the rundown.
Horse and dog tracks either owned or operated by Penn
Freehold Raceway – Freehold, New Jersey (50% ownership, with an affiliate of Parx)
Hollywood Casino at Kansas Speedway – Kansas City, Kansas (50% ownership)
Sam Houston Race Park – Houston, Texas (50% ownership)
Valley Race Park – Harlingen, Texas, greyhounds
Sanford–Orlando Kennel Club – Longwood, Florida, simulcast only
Dayton Raceway – Dayton, Ohio
Bangor Raceway – Bangor, Maine
Mahoning Valley Race Course – Austintown, Ohio
Leased or managed casinos:
Tropicana Las Vegas — Paradise, Nevada
Ameristar Casino Council Bluffs — Council Bluffs, Iowa
Ameristar Casino Hotel East Chicago — East Chicago, Indiana