Bristol, CT- September 18, 2014 – ESPN Campus: ESPN sign (photo by Joe Faraoni / ESPN Images)

Now that ESPN has officially dipped its foot into the gambling pond, there is no going back. Multiple announcements on Tuesday revealed that ESPN was getting into the sports betting marketplace in a big way. Penn Entertainment is rebranding its Barstool Sportsbook app as ESPN Bet, effective this fall.

Penn’s release details the terms of the agreement. ESPN will receive $1.5 billion over the first ten years of the deal. ESPN also receives “approximately $500 million of warrants to purchase approximately 31.8 million PENN common shares that will vest ratably over 10 years, in exchange for media, marketing services, brand and other rights provided by ESPN.”

But there’s more to it than that.

ESPN has to decide what stance it wants to take on gambling, and how any company-wide policy would affect its employees going forward. Michael McCarthy of Front Office Sports had more on that Thursday, reporting that the Worldwide Leader has some decisions to make in the coming weeks.

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.

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

It’ll be interesting to see how ESPN plays this, considering the controversy that surrounded NBA insider Shams Charania, who is a partner at FanDuel, during the 2023 NBA Draft. Whether you wanted to believe it was a coincidence or not, Charania may have influenced some betting lines with the information he tweeted out before the draft.

While it may have been a seemingly harmless tweet on the surface, as Charania is a respected NBA insider, there has been quite the fallout. Charania reported that Scoot Henderson was gaining serious momentum at No. 2 with the Charlotte Hornets, who were seemingly torn over selecting either him or Alabama’s Brandon Miller. After Charania sent that tweet, the betting markets changed. Henderson’s odds increased in likelihood over Miller to be the No. 2 overall pick in Thursday night’s NBA Draft.

But as we now know, Charlotte took Miller instead, which has since called into question the ethics surrounding a journalist reporting something directly involved with betting markets while also being on the payroll of a sportsbook. There remains a huge possibility that by tweeting out what people perceived as insider information, the betting markets for the 2023 NBA Draft could have largely been manipulated.

As McCarthy pointed out in his piece, ESPN has vowed to continue its “high standard of journalistic integrity when covering the sports betting space,” while also promoting “responsible gaming.”

Ultimately the Worldwide Leader has to figure out what to do on two fronts. First, ESPN has to decide on a company-wide policy towards their own employee’s gambling. As McCarthy reported, there is not a company-wide policy that prevents employees from gambling, and while that will likely change in the coming week or months, ESPN has to take a staunch stance on this matter. 

For example, if an insider learns information about a team/game and places a bet before publicly sharing said news, that would certainly call into question journalistic integrity. Not to say that would be something that takes place, but all bets are off without taking a stance one way or another on allowing your employees, who are respected across the sports media industry, to have that ability to gamble or not.

The other front here is how reports can affect moving lines, which again calls into question the controversy with Shams Charania and this year’s NBA Draft. Any information that shifts betting lines and turns out not to be true or not materialize, would certainly call into question journalistic integrity, which it has with Charania. That serves as a cautionary tale here and a potential conflict of interest in this sphere.

We can anticipate that betting will play a role in ESPN’s coverage when ESPN Bet officially launches this fall, What that looks like remains to be seen, but Scott Van Pelt’s Bad Beats are already a segment of coverage that’s popular and figures to continue with ESPN’s newfound partnership. At the same time, it’s these areas that ESPN will have to be very careful in how they approach being in the sports betting business.

That’s not exactly a stance on its own employees’ gambling, so that begs the question of how the Worlwide Leader will monitor possible reporting conflicts, which we will seemingly find out sooner than later.

[Front Office Sports]

About Sam Neumann

Since the beginning of 2023, Sam has been a staff writer for Awful Announcing and The Comeback. A 2021 graduate of Temple University, Sam is a Charlotte native, who currently calls Greenville, South Carolina his home. He also has a love/hate relationship with the New York Mets and Jets.