Penn Entertainment’s ESPN Bet Now Live, Changes for Hollywood Online Casino

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ESPN Bet, the long-awaited online sportsbook from Penn Entertainment, is now live in 17 U.S. states, according to a press release from the operator.

This launch comes months after Penn acquired the license to ESPN, the veteran sports media brand. Before that, it was required to ditch its previous Barstool Sportsbook license, which it had only finished buying earlier this year.

The new ESPN Bet platform is now accessible for mobile wagering on iOS and Android devices and via its desktop website.

The launch also contained news for Penn’s existing Barstool Sportsbook Casino in regulated U.S. online casino states like Michigan, New Jersey, and West Virginia.

The brand will now close, to be replaced by Hollywood Online Casino, which will be fully integrated into the ESPN Bet app.

In the Pennsylvania online casinos market — where Hollywood Online Casino is an especially popular operation — the Hollywood Casino.com website will close, with customers now only able to access the platform through the ESPN Bet app.

“We’re extremely proud to introduce ESPN BET and look forward to delivering an exceptional customer experience to fans across the U.S.,” said Jay Snowden, CEO & president, PENN Entertainment, in a press release.

ESPN Bet’s Expansion and Strategy

The popular sports broadcaster’s branded sportsbook is now available for online sports betting in Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.

Penn’s online casino offering is now also integrated within ESPN Bet, accessible via mobile and web under the Hollywood Casino brand. It is now available to fans of online casinos in Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia

This integration is part of Penn’s strategy to leverage its extensive portfolio of U.S. casino venues, which includes 43 Hollywood Casino properties across 20 states.

The acquisition of the hugely popular Connecticut-based ESPN brand, one of the biggest names in global and U.S. sports media, is a big gamble for Penn. But it is one that could have a huge payoff.

There is risk involved in shedding Barstool Sportsbook, which — although it had its fans — had not exactly set the U.S. sports betting world alight.

In late 2020, Penn acquired 36% of Barstool Sports to use the brand for its sportsbook. Earlier this year, it purchased the remaining 64% of the Massachusetts-based sports media brand for $488 million.

Just months later, it sold the entire Barstool Sports brand and media division back to its controversial founder, Dave Portnoy, for a reported $1 fee.

The new big bet on ESPN by Penn has to pay off for the operator after losing hundreds of millions on Barstool.

Changes at Hollywood Casino

As part of the launch, the Hollywood Casino website and standalone mobile application will soon be discontinued, transitioning its online casino products to the ESPN Bet platform.

Penn plans to integrate its online casino platform into the ESPN Bet app and website in the coming weeks.

HollywoodCasino.com has been operational since its debut in Pennsylvania in 2018, and is also active in Michigan and West Virginia.

The online casino platform’s accounts will be closed on December 14, 2023, with players encouraged to withdraw their funds beforehand.

Penn Entertainment and ESPN Could Be Powerful Combo

Penn Entertainment, originally known as Penn National Gaming, acquired the Hollywood Casino Corporation in 2003 for $328 million and $360 million in assumed debt.

Hollywood Casino Corporation, a Texas-based gaming operator, owned and managed three riverboats at the time of acquisition. Today, Penn Entertainment has an expansive portfolio, and is one of the U.S. biggest gambling operators.

Speculation among sector experts is that ESPN Bet, if managed correctly, could leverage ESPN’s massive audience to big success. Alongside Fanatics Sportsbook, the sports merchandiser with a similarly massive existing audience, it could become the biggest challenger to the dominant FanDuel and DraftKings.

Concerns for Penn could include the involvement of the notoriously capricious Disney, who own ESPN, and potential confusion over sports personalities offering betting tips during ESPN broadcasts.

Presumably, not all bettors will be aware that ESPN is only licensing the brand and not directly involved in the sportsbook’s operation, as Penn stressed last month to regulators for Massachusetts sports betting.

If this is the case, bettors could incorrectly assume that ESPN hosts offering tips have either an ulterior motive or inside information on the bet. Neither of which is a particularly good thing, especially with today’s social media rumor mill.

However, ESPN’s millions of fans and strong market presence could easily see bettors embrace the sportsbook wholeheartedly, propelling it to challenge the top of the market.

“Our successful launch is the culmination of months of hard work across both teams and we could not be more excited to roll out ESPN BET in partnership with ESPN. Penn’s operational excellence, paired with ESPN’s unmatched brand and reach, is a powerful combination that will drive this compelling new sportsbook,” said Snowden.

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