It’s A Whole New iGaming World For Walt Disney

For some it’s been likened to a “Marriage A-la-Mode, for others it’s a cynical, if long overdue push into the booming North American sports betting market but Disney–yes Disney, the family-orientated Walt Disney company–has made a direct US$2 billion move into online gambling.

And the deal–and here further eyebrows may be raised–further involves the controversial Dave Portnoy, founder of Barstool sports, an alleged sex pest and a man not noted for his recalcitrance in going forward with jutting chin.

Once again under the renewed leadership of US corporate legend Bob Iger, Walt Disney is now planning a US$2 billion (£1.56bn) segue with online gamers Penn Entertainment through its ESPN cable network.

Under the deal, Penn will rebrand its US sports betting portals, AKA Barstool Sportsbook, as ESPN Bet, both Disney and Penn confirmed this week.

Penn bought Barstool less than six-months-ago from Portnoy for US$551 million (£432.55m).

Portnoy’s Sex Complaint

Portnoy, a storied and dissentious figure in the fevered world of online US sports betting and blogging, has skirted controversy ever since founding Barstool in Massachusetts in 2003.

Last year he was profiled as a rambunctious operator who promoted excessive gambling by paper-of-record The New York Times. And in 2021 several women came forward and accused him of sexual harassment.

Although Penn and Barstool, despite their outsized rep, are essentially bit players in booming US sportsbooks, market leaders FanDuel, DraftKings and betMGM, will be watching developments closely now that big beast Disney, through their ESPN avatar, have entered the arena, currently embracing 34 of the USA’s 50 states.

ESPN, for starters, has some 25 million subscribers and over 105 million monthly digital visitors.

Disney, meanwhile, is expected to divulge its minority five percent stake in DraftKings–held through its ownership of 21st Century Fox–and a secondary sports betting odds deal with Caesars Entertainment, once the ESPN-Penn Entertainment joint-venture launches.

The move is a spectacular volte-face for Disney, who have shied away from direct links with the world of gambling in the past because of its toxic connotations and reputation.

“I was probably on the more conservative side about this for a long time. But I’ve changed because I think the acceptance of sports betting has grown significantly,” Bob Iger, who returned as Disney puppet master last November after being ousted in a boardroom coup in late 2021, announced earlier this year in a preamble to the ESPN-Barstool tie-in.

Undoubtedly it’s a whole new iGaming world for everybody’s Magic Kingdom.

Welcome to the kick-ass pleasure dome!

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