ESPN Bet Loses Big on NFL Odds Boosts

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ESPN Bet gave away quite a lot of money on two NFL games over the weekend. That’s even considering the recent hefty sums it has put into promotions since launching in November 2023.

The new Penn Entertainment-owned operator gave a huge football betting odds boost on the Baltimore Ravens against the Houston Texans on Saturday, and it backfired in a big way.

ESPN Bet offered increased odds on the Ravens to beat the Texans by 10-plus points, offering +110 odds compared to -110 at most other ‘books. It also offered bettors an even more attractive +140 for an 11-point victory, compared to +110 on the line elsewhere.

The promotion also had (apparently) no upper limit, with some bettors reporting putting down hundreds of thousands in wagers. As well as attractive odds, the situation was also primetime for arbitrage bettors.

By visiting ESPN and using the odds boost and then backing the Texans at an appropriate price elsewhere, bettors could guarantee a profit regardless of who won the match.

In the end, the Ravens won a comfortable 34-10 victory at M&T Bank Stadium – meaning gamblers cashed out big on ESPN Bet’s boosted odds.

The operator then doubled down and offered a similar no-limit odds boost on the Kansas City Chiefs against the Buffalo Bills on Saturday, which also went against them.

Interestingly, the Ravens victory over the Texans was broadcaster ESPN’s most-viewed NFL game ever, with an estimated 31 million people tuning in.

Arbitrage Opportunities

To add even more stakes to the game, individual bettors weren’t the only ones planning to bank on ESPN Bet’s unprecedented offer. Betting exchanges also got in on the action.

The New Jersey sports betting market is the only one in the U.S. to allow them, and David Huffman, COO at betting exchange Sporttrade, saw the news Saturday and pounced on the opportunity.

Betting exchanges let gamblers wager against each other’s propositions and set their own odds. Sporttrade has its own account on its own trading platform and decided to offer Houston to win by 10 or more points (+9.5) at +100.

Huffman explained the day’s events in a LinkedIn post over the weekend.  

“For every $97.6 bet covering both sides ($50 on HOU + $47.6 on BAL; both returning $100), a customer would earn out $2.4 of risk-free money,” he said.

“New & existing customers flooded to their Sporttrade deposit pages to plug in as much money as humanly possible to maximize this promotion, leading to quite a crazy day.”

Other exchanges also hopped in, including another New Jersey operator, Prophet Exchange.

For instance, a bet of $10,000 on the Texans at the exchange could be matched with a bet of $9,523 at ESPN Bet on the Ravens, securing a $476 profit for the bettor.

This unique situation led to approximately $1 million being traded on the game at Prophet Exchange, a record for the company.

Mattress Mack Denies Involvement

Speculation swirled around the rationale behind ESPN Bet’s strategy. It even led to a report from its own partner media brand, ESPN.

Penn Entertainment is the sole operator of ESPN Bet, with veteran media broadcaster ESPN having no input on the betting side of the business.

Industry sources suggested the move could have been attempting to balance the market after a substantial wager on the Texans.

Online rumors hinted at Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale’s involvement. However, hours later, reports emerged that while indeed famed bettor McIngvale did indeed place wagers totaling $500,000 on the Texans, he did so at one of Caesars Entertainment’s Nevada retail sportsbooks.

Following the Ravens game, ESPN BET doubled down on the questionable strategy and hosted a similar unlimited profit boost on the Kansas City Chiefs vs. the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.

The Chiefs’ odds for victory were boosted from +130 to +150, again offering arbitrage opportunities. Bettors and betting exchanges capitalized on these boosts, with some posting on social media they had bagged ensured profits of tens of thousands of dollars.

The Chiefs won that game, Patrick Mahomes combining with Travis Kelce on two touchdowns in a 27-24 victory, pouring more misery on ESPN Bet.

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