ESPN launches sportsbook in move to cash in on sports betting boom

The biggest name in U.S. sports broadcasting is putting its money on the lucrative gambling industry, launching an online betting platform that will initially be available in 17 states. 

ESPN teamed with Penn Entertainment, a provider of sports content and casino gaming experiences that previously launched the sportsbook for Barstool Sports, to create the betting service, dubbed ESPN Bet. The platform went live for signups on Thursday, but still needs approval from gaming commissions in each state. 

ESPN is plunging into the sports wagering business as parent company Disney looks to boost profits across the entertainment giant. Yet while gambling has exploded as a growing number of states legalize it, the broadcaster will face entrenched competitors in the form of DraftKings and FanDuel, which control roughly 80% of the online sports betting market,

“ESPN and Penn believe they can infiltrate this market,” Andrew Brandt, a sports business professor at Villanova University, told CBS MoneyWatch. “They want to make it like one-stop shopping where you go to check the score and there’s your betting opinions right there. They think they can offer a better product.”

The states that first will offer ESPN Bet are:

  • Arizona
  • Colorado
  • Illinois 
  • Indiana 
  • Iowa 
  • Kansas 
  • Kentucky 
  • Louisiana 
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan 
  • New Jersey 
  • Ohio 
  • Pennsylvania
  • Tennessee
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia

Creating ESPN Bet is a strategic move for both Penn and ESPN. The broadcaster wants to grow revenue by serving sports gambling fanatics, while Penn was looking for a new sports betting partner after severing its partnership with Barstool, Brandt said,

For both companies, what’s at stake is grabbing a piece of the rapidly growing sports gambling industry. Revenue at DraftKings, FanDuel, Caesars Sportsbook and BetMGM soared during the pandemic as more fans with time on their hands placed bets. Those companies gained even more steam in recent years as additional states legalized online sports gambling.  

$100 billion in bets

Online sports betting is now legal in 27 states, and Americans are expected to wager more than $100 billion on the hobby this year, according to the American Gaming Association. 

“It’s a fertile market even though it’s saturated,” Brandt said. “With sports betting so legalized and so mainstream, it’s becoming a way to really infiltrate that younger demographic.”

Despite its pedigree covering sports, ESPN is a relatively late entry into betting. Most existing sports gambling companies set up shop within months of a Supreme Court ruling in 2018 that struck down a federal law barring gambling on football, basketball, baseball and other sports. Sports merchandise company Fanatics also launched an online sportsbook in August. 

The growth sports betting has some addiction experts worried. Others, like NCAA President Charlie Baker, are worried about how sports gambling will impact college athletics. 

Baker recently told CBS News there can be intense pressure on student-athletes to perform well in college sports because a family member or friend has bet on the contest. 

“The fact that it’s now on your phone [and] you can do it anytime you want, it’s a real challenge — not just for us, but for student-athletes,” Baker told CBS News earlier this month. 

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