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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

Health care ruling saves Republicans from themselves

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Supreme Court saved the health care system from imploding Thursday by dismissing a Republican challenge to the Affordable Care Act. But it also saved the GOP itself from another round of intraparty chaos.

Why it matters: Most GOP lawmakers privately admit (and some will even say publicly) they don't want to deal with health care again. The issue generally isn't a good one for them with voters — as they learned the hard way after they failed to repeal the ACA in 2017.

7 hours ago - Economy & Business

Fed chief's second-term audition

Jerome Powell during a virtual news conference. Photo: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell faces a long, hot summer audition for a second term, with senators watching and weighing his response to potential signs of inflation.

Why it matters: The financial system's chief is one of the most powerful in the world. President Biden hasn’t given any public indication whether he’ll renominate Powell, but Democrats close to the administration say there's a chance he'll make an announcement by Labor Day — well before Powell’s term ends next February.

9 hours ago - World

Mapping China's growing global influence

Data: Atlantic Council; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

As of 1980, China was the most influential player in just one country: Albania. Now, China is the leading power across most of sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia and is catching up to the U.S. in its own hemisphere.

What we’re reading: That's according to a new report from the University of Denver and the Atlantic Council that seeks to measure the influence countries have on each other, and in so doing offers a dramatic portrait of China's rise.