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Friday, June 21, 2024

ESPN May Ban Its Own Employees From Wagering On ‘ESPN Bet’

  • ESPN must decide if talent/employees can bet on company-branded sports app.
  • Currently, there’s no internal policy barring sports betting inside ESPN.
Mel Kiper Jr, Booger McFarland, Louis Riddick and Mike Greenberg on the ESPN set during the 2023 NFL Draft
Phil Ellsworth / ESPN Images

ESPN is poised to make its long-awaited entrance into sports betting with “ESPN Bet.” But there’s one key group that may be banned from the gambling platform: ESPN employees themselves.

According to sources, high-level ESPN executives will decide over the next several months whether employees can wager on games via the company’s branded betting app. Or possibly wager on games at all.

The new ESPN Bet is expected to launch in November, just in time for the college football post-season, NFL Playoffs, Super Bowl and March Madness.

ESPN does not have an internal policy banning employees from betting on games, said sources. 

But the sports world discovered during the last two NBA Drafts that a well-timed tweet from insiders like Shams Charania of The Athletic/FanDuel/Stadium or ESPN’s own Adrian Wojnarowski can shift the betting odds.

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It will be a tricky decision for the sports media giant as ESPN rebrands PENN’s Barstool Sportsbook operation.

On the one hand, ESPN’s parent, The Walt Disney Co., has long been leery of sports betting soiling the Mouse House’s family-friendly image. 

That’s why PENN Entertainment will have complete operational control of ESPN Bet, according to details of the $2 billion, 10-year deal announced Tuesday. 

ESPN will effectively license its iconic Four Letters to PENN for a $150 million annual commitment over the first 10 years of the deal, plus $500 million in stock warrants. 

In return, ESPN is selling exclusive rights to the “ESPN Bet” trademark to Penn. It will also promote the brand via its various sports media platforms while offering exclusive access to ESPN programming and talent. 

ESPN has vowed to continue its “high standard of journalistic integrity when covering the sports betting space,” while also promoting “responsible gaming.”

On the other hand, trying to ban ESPN’s gambling-savvy on-air talent like Scott Van Pelt of “Bad Beats” fame, much less the rest of its 5,000 employees, from betting on their own company app will be like trying to keep a hungry dog from its dinner. 

Just ask the NFL. Now that the league has abandoned its long-standing opposition to sports betting, it’s struggling from a growing number of player violations.

Similarly, the rapid embrace of sports betting has created a minefield for leagues and sports media companies. They appear to be taking an ad-hoc approach when it comes to employees betting on games.

The Athletic, now owned by the New York Times, does not allow its beat reporters/columnists to bet on the sports they cover. Staffers are also prohibited from “using information obtained through work or relationships developed through their work with The Athletic to bet on other sports,” according to the guidelines. The only exceptions are for staffers who work on the site’s gambling vertical.

The NFL does not allow its people, including NFL Network employees, to bet on games. Period. “NFL employees can’t bet on sports at all. NFL or otherwise,” spokesman Alex Riethmiller told Front Office Sports.

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ESPN is especially vulnerable on Draft nights. The networks provide live coverage of the annual NFL, NBA, and MLB Drafts. But Charania and Wojnarowski have come under fire two years in a row for seemingly shifting betting odds around the NBA Draft.

To avoid possible conflicts of interest, Front Office Sports reported ESPN plans to keep “Insiders” like Wojnarowski, Adam Schefter, and Jeff Passan far away from gambling programming such as “Daily Wager,” said sources.

For how long, who knows? As we’ve learned, money does the ultimate talking when it comes to sports betting.

Barstool Sports personalties touted their own betting experience on their app/platform. Now that it will be rebranded “ESPN Bet, ” there a good chance the bosses in Bristol will eventually give their own people the green light to do the same.

It’s possible to see ESPN staking out a middle position like The Athletic, banning insiders and reporters from betting on sports they cover, but allowing the rest of the company to bet. Look for ESPN programming of the future to feature talk of odds, parlays and prop bets.

Still, a final decision has not been made. ESPN declined to comment for this story.

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