Ohio Sports Betting Officially Adds 'ESPN Bet' App to the Market

Dan Favale
By , Updated on: Nov 16, 2023 12:00 AM
Ohio sports betting market officially launches ESPN Bet application.

The Ohio sports betting market officially added another operator to the fold.

ESPN Bet recently launched in The Buckeye State, along with 15 other regions. This has been a long-awaited debut. Many view ESPN’s failure to enter the United States sports betting market sooner as a failure. But they’re here now. 

The app will be run in partnership with Penn Entertainment, which formerly operated Barstool Sportsbook. This alliance came together rather quickly, and the launch date is true to the party line. Sources told Legal Sports Report’s Mike Mazzeo that ESPN planned to launch their sports betting application by mid-November. This timeline is spot on with that projection.

So, what does the ESPN Bet launch mean for sports betting in Ohio? Let’s dig into the details.

How Accessible is ESPN Bet in the Ohio Sports Betting Market?

Using ESPN Bet for clients in The Buckeye State will not be much different from doing so with any other online sportsbook in the United States. As long as residents in Ohio are over the age of 21, they will be able to set up the ESPN Bet mobile application download and start placing wagers immediately from anywhere in the state.

Access to ESPN Bet will be more restrictive in certain other states. As of now, ESPN Bet will debut in 15 states other than Ohio: Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. There is no word yet on whether Penn Entertainment plans to expand their market reach for ESPN Bet. Many expected they would like to be among the operators running sportsbooks in New York. 

Still, in the near term, access isn’t exactly the issue. The company has already announced that the first of operations for ESPN Bet in Ohio and across the United States went off without many major hitches.

Acquiring a real sports betting market is actually Penn Entertainment’s challenge. They failed to ever make a dent in Ohio, specifically, while running Barstool Sportsbook. Should we expect ESPN Bet to be any different?

 

ESPN Bet is Attempting to Maximize Their Reach in Ohio and Other States

In an attempt to gain clients and secure an Ohio sports betting market share, Penn Entertainment is trying hard to maximize the reach that ESPN Bet touts. As Nathan Blomey wrote for Axios:

“Penn Entertainment today converted its Barstool Sportsbook service into ESPN Bet after agreeing in August to pay the Disney property $1.5 billion in cash over 10 years. ESPN, which also got $500 million in Penn stock warrants, agreed to actively promote ESPN Bet throughout its network.”

This promotional agreement apparently also included social media usage. Multiple users of the app “X” (formerly Twitter) noticed that the former account branded for the since-shuddered show Sportsnation was converted to an ESPN Bet handle. Though companies transition subsidiary accounts on social media all the time, this was unique given how many followers it had. The Sportsnation handle had over 5 million followers, which the ESPN Bet branding now inherits. 

This practice has been lampooned by many. Suddenly turning a sports media account into one with gambling content and operational offerings toes a moral gray area. The ESPN Bet app may restrict users to those over 21, but their messaging across social media will now reach an audience in the millions that skews significantly younger. And exposing those underage gambling has been frowned upon across the country. It serves as indirect (or even direct) advertising to an illegal demographic.

It’ll be interesting to see whether the Ohio Casino Control Commission has any thoughts on the matter. The Ohio sports betting market, after all, has been among the most vigilant when it comes to questionable practices.

Will ESPN Bet Materially Impact the Ohio Sports Betting Market Share?

While ESPN Bet is live in 16 states, Ohio looms as an important barometer. The Buckeye State is a top 10 betting market when looking at their size and long-term potential. If ESPN Bet cannot generate a sizable share of the market in one of the main states, it may force Penn Entertainment to rethink their approach.

Many just assume it will be a success because of the ESPN branding and reach. And perhaps it will be. But as other sportsbooks have shown, the Ohio sports betting market can be a tough nut to crack. Online operators FanDuel and DraftKings account for the majority of the sports betting business in Ohio. As Nick Jones for Poker Industry Pro wrote on the Ohio sports betting revenue report for October 2023:

“DraftKings and FanDuel remain the dominant players, collecting 39 percent and 31 percent of the market’s bets, respectively. In revenue, the pair each generated $28.5 million for 36 percent of the market apiece. That leaves just 30 percent of the market for 18 other active sports betting operators, of which six attract $10 million or more in handle and at least $1 million in revenue. BetMGM (revenue of $6.1 million) and Bet365 ($5.9 million) lead this middle pack.”

This gap between DraftKings and FanDuel and the field is massive. Between the former two, you have roughly 70 percent of the entire Ohio sports betting handle. And with so many other active sportsbooks in the market, how does ESPN Bet plan to differentiate themselves?

Future of ESPN Bet is a Swing for the Fences in Ohio and Elsewhere

Other sportsbooks in Ohio seem to prepare for the arrival of ESPN Bet in The Buckeye State. The Fanatics company opened a new Ohio retail sportsbook, and operators in the market juiced up their November sports betting bonuses to attract as many new and current customers as possible. 

Many analysts don’t even know how to react. The response to a new legal sportsbook launch has never been this strong. 

In more ways than one, the entry of ESPN Bet into Ohio is a test case for whether DraftKings and FanDuel are unbeatable. Smaller operators (like Barstool Sportsbook) are liable to get swallowed up in the shuffle. But ESPN Bet will be pushing its mobile application on television, across all their programming and across their record-setting social media followings.

That reach theoretically gives ESPN Bet a chance to infringe upon DraftKings and FanDuel. And it isn’t just the reach. ESPN is a recognized media brand. It has been around longer than the other two. Users may be more inclined to trust a sports betting app associated with the Disney Company.

Conversely, if ESPN Bet cannot steal a slice of sports betting in Ohio, it might suggest that nobody can compete with the models set up by FanDuel and DraftKings. And if that winds up being the case, it could impact just how many smaller sportsbooks in Ohio want to keep their licenses knowing they might be fighting a losing battle.

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Meet the author

Dan Favale

Dan first began writing about sports back in 2011. At the time, his expertise lied in the NBA and NFL. More than one decade, that remains the case. But he's also expanded his catalog to include extensive knowledge and analysis on the NHL, MLB, tennis, NASCAR, college ba...

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