Disney Plans to Enter Legal Sports Betting Business But Must Wait on Florida Resoution

Dan Favale
By , Updated on: Mar 12, 2023 08:00 PM
Disney Plans to Enter Legal Sports Betting Business But Must Wait on Florida Resoution

It turns out the wait for legal sports betting in Florida isn't just holding up gamblers, online bookmakers and casinos. It may also be an obstacle facing the company responsible for the "Happiest Place on Earth." And yes, we're talking about Disney.

Based predominantly in Florida and California, The Walt Disney Company is one of the largest corporations in America. Their name is, of course, most synonymous with their Sunshine State theme park, Walt Disney World, as well as their television, film and streaming productions. However, as most already know, Disney is also the parent company of ESPN, the "worldwide leader in sports." And with sports betting in the United States becoming more commonplace, many have viewed Disney joining the fray in some form as only a matter of time.

Currently, though, the company has yet to try dipping their toes in the industry. And like always, there's more than one reason.

Many wonder what such an entry would look like. Others have posited that Disney cannot continue championing themselves as a family brand and enter the gambling industry. But more than anything, the legal sports betting litigation in Florida seems to be holding up any grand plans.

Disney CEO Says It's Only a Matter of Time Before They Get into Legal Sports Betting

First thing's for first: For anyone who thinks Disney will waffle on an entry into sports betting, we recommend you think again. While they are indeed a family brand, there isn't as much of a stigma against gambling as there used to be. After all, more than 30 states now have legal sports betting in some form.

In the event there was any doubt, CEO Bob Iger cleared it up during a recent 35-minute question and answer session at Morgan Stanley’s Technology, Media and Telecom Conference. Here's the gist of his message, courtesy of Gabrielle Russon from FloridaPolitics.com:

"Iger said Disney, which owns ESPN, will likely be heading into the sports betting business someday. "It’s inevitable that there’ll be basically a seamlessness between sports programming and sports betting,” Iger explained, although he referenced his 20-something-aged children. “I prefer to wait as long as possible when I think about them.”

Other media companies have not shied from entering the sports betting business. For example: Barstool Sports, known for its purposely satirical and inappropriately framed blog and social media posts, now have their own sportsbook. Other large companies, meanwhile, have partnered with existing sportsbooks—just like the sports leagues they tend to cover (NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL, etc.)

Disney is traveling a more delicate path. Iger hinted at this by referencing his "20-something-aged children." The WDC is first and foremost known for its familial energy. As much as perception of sports betting has changed, it is not exactly considered family friendly. And while anything Disney does will be branded under the ESPN umbrella, this provides little cover or separation. Pretty much everyone in the world knows the worldwide leader in sports is a Walt Disney subsidiary.

Will Disney's Interest in Legal Sports Betting Sway Florida's Gambling Litigation?

In years past, the answer to this question would have been a resounding "yes." Disney has historically carried a ton of influence in Florida politics—and USA politics at large. Up until recently, they operated with a level of autonomy, almost like a separate nation, in the area surrounding their theme parks.

But that sovereignty has shifted in the aftermath of a dispute with Governor Ron DeSantis. The Walt Disney Company openly opposed Florida's "Don't Say Gay or Trans Act," which drew the ire of the Sunshine State's ultra-conservative and petulant governor. They have since been stripped of certain tax, legal and operational benefits. DeSantis has also brazenly communicated, on numerous occasions, an intent to push back against their perks and influence.

At the same time, it isn't just the relationship between Governor DeSantis and Disney that limits the latter's influence over legal sports betting legislature. The matter, for now, is largely out of the entire state's hands.

Florida legal sports betting went live in November 2021 and was exclusively offered by the Seminole Tribe thanks to a gaming compact struck between them and Governor DeSantis. But once the tribe started offering wagering opportunities via a mobile application, they were sued and a District Court judge overturned the gaming compact.

Legal sports betting in Florida has been dormant ever since. And it isn't clear when—or even if—it will return. The matter is currently being reviewed by the United State Appeals Court, and there's a chance it winds up in the Supreme Court. Many believe the Florida sports betting timeline will be delayed until after 2026 as a result. There's little Disney can do to change things unless sports betting ends up in the House of Representatives or Senate.

What Would an Entry into Sports Betting Look Like for Disney?

It is impossible to provide a spot-on answer to this question without getting a peek at Disney's business plan. With that said, it stands to reason they would open up an ESPN-branded sportsbook that allows gamblers to place wagers both online and in-person.

Given the collective reach of ESPN and Disney, this would be a huge development. They would no doubt instantly vault into the company of all the other highly reviewed online sportsbooks. And for a corporation that is looking to shed over $5 billion in expenses, the revenue boon would be huge for their company infrastructure.

This ultimately raises a number of questions: Would ESPN need to branch off of Disney, as a separate company, to facilitate an entry into sports betting? Would they open up brick-and-mortar sportsbooks? If so, where? Would the regular ESPN mobile app allow users to place bets or would they need to create a separate application? And above all, are there any ethical hurdles they must clear as a company that would both report on injuries, rumors and news that impact betting lines while also creating those same betting lines?

These are all important issues. We're also getting way ahead of the game. Before Disney wades into the gambling waters, they likely need legal sports betting to finally get the green light in their primary areas of operations: Florida and California.

Take a look at this list of the top online sportsbooks so you can find one that works for all of your sports betting needs:

Meet the author

Dan Favale

Dan Favale leverages over 12 years of sports journalism expertise in his role as New York staff writer. He provides in-depth analysis across the NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL, tennis, NASCAR, college basketball, and sports betting. Dan co-hosts the popular Hardwood Knocks NBA podc...

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