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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Barstool Sports used to be a media company, but on the heels of a $163 million investment from Penn National Gaming, it is now, in many respects, a sports betting company.

Why it matters: Barstool's evolution speaks to where the sports betting industry stands at the outset of 2020. With legalization on the horizon in key states and mobile betting set to explode, sportsbook operators are in a race to acquire users and build the best digital storefront.

  • Meanwhile, publishers have begun incorporating sports betting into their coverage, hoping to cash in on exclusive partnerships (i.e. Bleacher Report and Caesar's Palace) and affiliate deals (i.e. sportsbooks offering commissions to publishers that drive users to place bets with them).
What's ahead

1. More media deals: Since the Supreme Court lifted the federal ban on sports betting 20 months ago, fantasy sports companies like DraftKings and FanDuel have benefitted from being top of mind among casual bettors, while most gambling operators have struggled with brand awareness.

  • Why Penn did this deal: Instead of having to organically acquire new users, Barstool's 66 million unique monthly users will be funneled directly to their retail sportsbooks and mobile app.
  • What to watch: We should expect to see more deals like this that pair sportsbooks with existing audiences. But not every outlet is flexible enough to take on sports betting, so it will be interesting to see who leans in and who bows out.

2. Continued legalization: By the end of 2020, more than half of U.S. states could realistically have legalized betting — a tipping point for an industry that is currently catering to a fragmented audience.

  • Watch the big states: "The prize is so large in states like California, New York and Florida that every relevant stakeholder is willing to do whatever it takes to guarantee a seat at the table. They're just not going to accept being shut out of those states in the same way they might accept being shut out of a smaller state," Chris Grove, a partner at Eilers & Krejcik Gaming, tells Axios.

3. Startup explosion: Many of the startups that got off the ground last year are either entering major growth phases or on the verge of rolling out their MVPs (minimum viable products) in 2020.

  • Apps/Tools: The Action Network is the "Bloomberg for sports betting." A website called Abe wants to be the "Kayak for sports betting." In other words, we have officially entered the "[Existing app] for sports betting" phase.
  • Plumbing: "Sports betting is still not the most efficient machine from a backend perspective, so expect to see more and more talk about things like payments this year," said Grove.

4. Branded sportsbooks: As I mentioned earlier, the Barstool acquisition lets Penn funnel users directly into its retail sportsbooks and mobile app. But hang on — why not take it a step further and just rebrand to ... "Barstool Sportsbook?"

Go deeper:

Go deeper

19 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Ohio Senate candidate Josh Mandel escorted out of RNC retreat

Ohio Republican Senate candidate Josh Mandel. Photo: Chris Maddaloni / Getty Images

During this weekend’s highly anticipated donor retreat hosted by the Republican National Committee in Palm Beach, Ohio Senate candidate Josh Mandel was escorted off the premises while his primary opponent, Jane Timken, was allowed to stay, two sources with direct knowledge of the situation tell Axios.

What we’re hearing: The invitation-only event is taking place at the Four Seasons Resort, and the RNC reserved the entire hotel. While Timken, former Ohio GOP chair, was invited to the event “because she is a major donor” — Mandel was not, so he was asked to leave, according to one of the sources

Ben Geman, author of Generate
1 hour ago - Energy & Environment

Report: John Kerry plans to visit China ahead of Biden's climate summit

John Kerry. Photo: Zach Gibson / Stringer

John Kerry, President Biden's special climate envoy, is expected to travel to China next week for meetings with officials aimed at boosting collaboration, the Washington Post reported Saturday.

Why it matters: China is the world's largest carbon dioxide emitter and the U.S. is second-largest.

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus cases hold steady at 65,000 per day — CDC declares racism "a serious public health threat" — WHO official: Brazil is dealing with "raging inferno" of a COVID outbreak
  2. Vaccines: America may be close to hitting a vaccine wall — Pfizer asks FDA to expand COVID vaccine authorization to adolescents — CDC says Johnson & Johnson vaccine supply will drop 80% next week.
  3. Economy: Treasury says over 156 million stimulus payments sent out since March — More government spending expected as IMF projects 6% global GDP growth.
  4. Politics: Supreme Court ends California's coronavirus restrictions on home religious meetings
  5. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.