An image from the opening of the ESPN Bet sportsbook and restaurant in Detroit. (Penn Entertainment.) Credit: Penn Entertainment

Penn Entertainment could be on the move less than a year after swapping its Barstool Sports branding for ESPN.

According to Reuters, U.S. casino operator Boyd Gaming has approached Penn about a potential acquisition. Penn reportedly has a market value of more than $9 billion, including debt, with its shares jumping by nearly 10 percent to more than $20 per share on Thursday following the news of a potential sale. Penn shares were trading around $19.50 on Friday morning.

Should a deal come to fruition, it would mark the biggest merger among U.S. gambling companies since Eldorado Resorts purchased Caesars Entertainment for a $17.3 billion acquisition in 2020. Reuters notes that Boyd, which has a reported market value of $7.8 billion including debt, would need “financial firepower” to pull off such a purchase, in addition to winning over The Walt Disney Company, which has a partnership with Penn via its ESPN Bet licensing deal.

Previously the majority stakeholder in Barstool Sports, which it used to brand its product, Penn sold the company back to founder Dave Portnoy for a transactional price of $1 last summer after reaching a 10-year, $2 billion licensing deal with ESPN. Penn also operates 43 casinos and racetracks across 20 U.S. states, including an ESPN Bet sportsbook in Detroit.

After first launching last November, ESPN Bet’s early returns have been mixed at best. While the app clearly has an upside as far as potential integrations go, it currently maintains a reported 4 percent market share, with initial numbers falling short of expectations.

According to, news of Boyd’s approach comes weeks after an activist investor group wrote a letter to Penn shareholders calling for the company’s sale. The Donerail Group has reportedly grown frustrated with the Wyomissing, Pennsylvania-based company for “investing billions of dollars into online gambling” and its lack of “meaningful returns from its digital segment.”

ESPN Bet’s shortcomings have also led to some awkward banter on the Disney-owned network’s airwaves, thanks to The Pat McAfee Show. It will be interesting to see what Penn’s potential sale means for the future of the app as it heads toward its first full football season in operation.


About Ben Axelrod

Ben Axelrod is a veteran of the sports media landscape, having most recently worked for NBC's Cleveland affiliate, WKYC. Prior to his time in Cleveland, he covered Ohio State football and the Big Ten for outlets including Cox Media Group, Bleacher Report, Scout and Rivals.