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Gaming Giant Gets New Compliance Chief as Sports Betting Spreads

Feb. 28, 2020, 8:08 PM

Penn National Gaming Inc. hired a new chief compliance officer this month, just weeks after the North American casino and racetrack operator pushed further into the sports betting market.

Christopher Soriano, a business litigation and gaming law partner at Duane Morris in Cherry Hill, N.J., recently joined the casino and racetrack operator at its headquarters in Wyomissing, Pa., located about an hour west of Philadelphia.

The company’s new compliance chief confirmed his new role, which has yet to be publicly announced, in a brief phone call Friday with Bloomberg Law. Soriano, who specializes in casino regulation, also acknowledged his prior experience advising on sports betting matters, an area of increased importance to Penn as it paid $163 million in late January to buy a 36% stake in Barstool Sports Inc.

That cash-and-stock deal valued the popular, yet controversial, sports and pop culture media company at $450 million. It also gives Penn the right to use the Barstool brand for casino products and online and retail sports betting and makes the company Barstool’s exclusive gaming partner for 40 years.

Soriano is taking over Penn’s top compliance role from Frank Donaghue, a former of counsel at Ballard Spahr who joined the company in 2011. Donaghue, who is returning to private practice, did not respond to a request for comment about his timeline for leaving Penn.

At Penn, Soriano said he will report to general counsel Carl Sottosanti, who has spent the past half-dozen years leading the company’s law department, having initially been hired as deputy general counsel in 2003.

Sottosanti did not respond to a request for comment about Penn’s compliance change, but has previously said publicly that the company has a small in-house staff consisting of only a handful of lawyers, with outside counsel handling more than half of its legal workload.

Penn’s Legal Team

Bloomberg Law data shows that within the last three-to-five years, national law firms Littler Mendelson and Ballard Spahr have picked up the bulk of Penn’s litigation caseload, along with Lake Charles, La.-based Plauché Smith & Nieset, Gretna, La.-based Gaudry, Ranson, Higgins & Gremillion, Baton Rouge, La.-based Breazeale, Sachse & Wilson, and St. Louis-based McMahon Berger.

Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz has long handled transactional work for Penn. The firm advised the company on its purchase of a minority stake in Barstool, which permits Penn to increase its holding to 50% in three years, and its $2.8 billion acquisition last year of Las Vegas-based Pinnacle Entertainment Inc.

Penn announced in December a reorganization of its executive management team that promoted former deputy general counsel and senior vice president of corporate development Chris Rogers to chief strategy officer. Former Pinnacle in-house lawyer Elliot Hoops became a vice president and deputy general counsel at Penn last year after it closed on its purchase of the casino and racetrack company.

In February, Penn promoted deputy chief compliance officer Michael West, who joined the company in 2018, to vice president of compliance. Penn also hired Hilary Barrett as vice president of employment and business affairs last summer in Las Vegas.

Barrett most recently served as special counsel at Littler, while West had been an associate at Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz and Phelps Dunbar in Louisiana. Neither she nor West responded to requests for comment about their in-house positions.

An annual proxy statement filed by Penn shows that Sottosanti earned more than $2.23 million in total compensation in 2018, nearly $1.3 million of which was in cash. Bloomberg data shows that Sottosanti currently owns $3.3 million in Penn stock.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at bbaxter@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Seth Stern at sstern@bloomberglaw.com

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