Rece Davis and Erin Dolan discussing Dolan's picks on ESPN. Rece Davis and Erin Dolan discussing Dolan’s picks on ESPN. (Awful Announcing on Twitter/X.)

There are all sorts of potential perils with sports media companies being more and more linked with sports betting companies. One of those came on ESPN Sunday at the end of a segment with ESPN Bet’s Erin Dolan giving various men’s basketball picks. (ESPN Bet is a sportsbook run by Penn Entertainment, under a license to use the ESPN name that began last fall in place of their previous arrangement with Barstool Sports.) After Dolan finished her analysis, ESPN host Rece Davis praised it by calling her recommendation of betting the under on Northwestern’s team total against UConn “a risk-free investment” rather than gambling:

Of course, Davis probably does not actually believe this is a “risk-free investment.” He says this with a bit of a laugh, and it seems likely he understands that even the surest-seeming picks can go wrong. And these kinds of comments aren’t unusual between friends discussing how good a particular bet might look.

But there are extremely strict guidelines around gambling advertising, and some of those apply to personalities’ on-air comments as well. A key element in that advertising is acknowledging that all betting comes with risk; even seemingly-much-surer sportsbook signup promotions of “If this team scores at all, you win!” and other “bonus bets” have to carry notable disclaimers.

And that’s particularly significant right now amidst enhanced responsible betting discourse around several scandals citing gambling addiction. And that’s to say nothing of overarching conversations about how involved sports media outlets and personalities should be in betting, and discussion about books’ attempts to promote responsible gaming. (Or the conversation about how moving from Barstool to ESPN branding was supposed to cause less regulatory issues for Penn from personalitiescomments.)

That’s a big part of why Davis’ comments stood out so much. (And that even led to a surprised look and an “Okay” from Dolan.) And Davis’ remarks took a ton of criticism, including from many notable sports reporters, betting analysts, and more. Here’s some of that:

Again, it seems unlikely Davis meant to imply these picks literally cannot lose. And his comments probably were not interpreted that way by most viewers.

But specific language is incredibly important around gambling picks and promotions. And there are some things you cannot, or at the very least should not, say about gambling on television, especially on a television network closely linked to a sportsbook operator. “Risk-free investment” is one of those.

Update: Davis later addressed this on Twitter/X:

[Awful Announcing on Twitter/X]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.