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Wednesday, April 17, 2024
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11 Million Bettors Up for Grabs: N.C. Launches Mobile Sports Betting

  • Mobile sports betting launches Monday in North Carolina.
  • This is the biggest state yet to go live since ESPN Bet’s November release.
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Selection Sunday is just six days away, with a bevy of conference basketball tournaments this week inching us closer to March Madness. Last year an estimated $15.5 billion was wagered on the men’s NCAA tournament, according to the American Gaming Association. 

That gargantuan number should only grow this year. Since the UConn men’s team cut down the nets last April, several more states have launched mobile sports betting, and, Monday, nearly 11 million more people in North Carolina will be allowed to try their luck as legal sports wagering goes live in the Tar Heel State. While that’s certainly welcome news for Duke and UNC fans hoping to cash in on potential Final Four runs, the debut also greenlights the biggest test yet for perhaps the most intriguing sportsbook challenger to the U.S. duopoly of DraftKings and FanDuel.

Worldwide Leader?

ESPN Bet has a stated goal of eventually reaching 20% market share but has been playing catchup since its November launch, faced with the tall task of converting existing customers from rival sportsbooks. Some recent data shows ESPN Bet has plenty of work to do. Research firm Eilers & Krejcik Gaming provided Front Office Sports with a report that estimates the national market share for December to be:

  • FanDuel: 41.32%
  • DraftKings: 32.54%
  • BetMGM/Borgata: 6.34%
  • Caesars/William Hill: 4.94%
  • ESPN Bet: 4.68%

But in North Carolina the fledgling app, which was born out of a $2 billion partnership with Penn Entertainment, will get its fairest fight so far, as it—along with the likes of DraftKings, FanDuel, and others—simultaneously looks to secure potentially millions of first-time bettors in the state with sign-up bonuses worth hundreds of dollars. “Everyone’s going to be looking at North Carolina to see how they perform,” says Robert Linnehan, a sports betting regulation expert for XL Media’s gambling-focused websites. “If they’re not top three, I think they’d be very disappointed.”

Penn is making an aggressive push to woo N.C. bettors, including advertising for the launch on ESPN’s First Take and Get Up, in addition to sending the network’s $12 million man Stephen A. Smith to a fan event at a Charlotte pickleball bar and entertainment center later this week. But the duopoly is making sure North Carolina feels its presence, too. Last week, FanDuel teamed up with the Panthers, becoming their official sports betting partner and sending star TV host Kay Adams to Charlotte to broadcast her morning show live from Bank of America Stadium. DraftKings, meanwhile, signed up Panthers legend and Fox NFL analyst Greg Olsen to place the ceremonial first bet.

An Uphill Battle

While North Carolina’s launch will be an interesting test case in some regards, ESPN Bet will still have its hands full. “It’s not like everyone is starting at the same point in North Carolina either,” says sports betting investor Chris Grove, pointing to popular daily fantasy products that have been running in the state for nearly a decade. 

“Those head-start advantages that DraftKings and FanDuel enjoy are still meaningful,” adds Grove, who is also a partner at the aforementioned EKG. “And that is probably going to translate to a very big preregistration edge. And, as a result, I don’t know that we’re really going to see a tremendously different distribution of market share.”

As Grove also points out, ESPN Bet is a long-term play—Disney and Penn do have a 10-year deal in place. But once wagering results come in from March Madness, it will be impossible not to look at how ESPN Bet did in this new market and maybe make an early conclusion or two.

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