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Monday, July 15, 2024

ESPN Bet’s Operator Is Reportedly Being Eyed in a Potential Takeover

  • Boyd Gaming has reportedly approached ESPN Bet partner Penn Entertainment about an acquisition.
  • It’s been a difficult market for most sports betting challengers amid the dominance of FanDuel and DraftKings.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The difficult task of achieving scale in a sports betting market dominated by FanDuel and DraftKings could help prompt more large-scale dealmaking among the industry’s challengers.

Casino operator Boyd Gaming has approached Penn Entertainment, the operating partner of ESPN Bet, about a potential takeover, according to a Reuters report. The proposed deal—likely premised in part on Boyd Gaming’s interest in Penn Entertainment’s land-based casinos—still faces a variety of obstacles, including the need for approval from regulators and ESPN parent Disney. But the fact it’s even being discussed shows the pressure that exists in this consolidating business. No specific prices for an acquisition have been disclosed; the two companies have a combined market value of nearly $17 billion. 

Despite Penn Entertainment’s stated intent to reach a 20% market share with ESPN Bet by 2027 in its $2 billion deal with the sports media giant, early progress in many key states shows the big gap that still remains. In key states such as Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Illinois, ESPN Bet is claiming about 5–6% of the market. The brand is set to debut in New York later this year, but the steep uphill climb persists for ESPN Bet and every other market upstart. Industry titans FanDuel and DraftKings, meanwhile, continue to control about 75% of the market combined. 

In part because of those factors, activist investor The Donerail Group recently wrote the Penn Entertainment board, questioning whether the directors “are really just riverboat gamblers, content with doubling down after each loss—of shareholder capital, of management confidence, of board credibility.”

Market Moves

News of Boyd Gaming’s approach drove Penn stock up by nearly 10% on Thursday. The following day, shares settled, closing down 1% to $19.05 per share. For the year to date, the stock is down by nearly 24%, and the company’s issues have even been the subject of derision on The Pat McAfee Show. By comparison, DraftKings stock is up by 25% this year, while shares in FanDuel parent Flutter Entertainment are up by 8%. 

Penn National has not commented on the reported interest from Boyd. But after missing analyst projections in its most recent quarter, CEO Jay Snowden acknowledged that “we have not been as tight and accurate with our financial forecasting in the early days of ESPN Bet.”

Boyd Gaming owns a 5% stake in FanDuel, a holding that would likely need to be sold should the Penn National acquisition happen. 

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