Problem Gambling to Become Even More Mainstream?

It seems that we should have waited one more day to release our monthly Problem Gambling Report, because MAJOR news came down this pipeline this AM. That’s how fast the gambling locomotive moves across the country. So what’s the big story?

America’s longest standing sports network – Entertainment and Sports Programming Network (ESPN) – has launched an online sportsbook. ESPN issued a press release to announce the launch of ESPN BET through gaming operator PENN Entertainment:

“ESPN today announced an agreement with PENN Entertainment to launch ESPN BET, a branded sportsbook for fans in the United States. PENN Entertainment will rebrand its current sportsbook and relaunch as ESPN BET, effective this Fall in the 16 legalized betting states where PENN Entertainment is licensed. The rebrand includes the mobile app, website, and mobile website.”


Let’s be clear – this is the biggest player to enter the sports betting space since the activity was legalized by the US Supreme Court in 2018. Moreover, the implications of a brand such as ESPN getting involved in gambling is a big gamble for America as a whole. Below is a breakdown of why vulnerable households need to be on alert.

Why Vulnerable (to Problem Gambling) Americans Should be High Alert as ESPN Launches an Online Sportsbook

America’s Beloved Brands Backing Sports Betting

By now it has become public knowledge that The Walt Disney Company owns ESPN. We understand that conglomerates get so big that they often remain blissfully detached regarding what companies they do and don’t own. The concept of keeping at an arm’s length found its origin in the 1700s for instances such a this.

This is not the case with the Walt Disney Company. ESPN is 80 percent owned by ABC, Inc. which is an indirect subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company. In February of 2023, Disney made the sports network one of three pillars in their global entertainment package, which includes Disney Entertainment, Disney Parks Experiences and Products, and ESPN.

“Effective immediately, the company will be organized into three core, collaborative business segments: Disney Entertainment, ESPN, and Disney Parks, Experiences and Products.”

Walt Disney Company

If Disney didn’t have such a deep connection with ESPN it would be easier to ignore, but given that ESPN is one of its stated three pillars this is clearly not the case. Sure, Disney has made it clear that its recent strategic restructuring restores accountability to each pillar, but the word is already out there. Disney owns ESPN, and ESPN has just launched a real money gambling operation. This can’t be swept under Aladdin’s magic carpet and made to disappear.

This is where the danger lurks. Gambling has quickly become normalized across the United States. America is currently facing a teenage gambling problem, and it is being driven by an onslaught of advertising that uses their favorite influencers to promote gambling. These influencers include the star of the Disney Channel’s High School Musical. Are we being hyperbolic in stating that Disney’s highly publicized ownership of ESPN is at the very least problematic when it comes to youth who are already more vulnerable to gambling disorder than all generations prior? The mainstream acceptance of gambling in the USA is now more mainstream and acceptable than ever before.

Even if we look at ESPN in a silo outside of Disney, their launch of a gambling platform is concerning. Sports betting is hurting America’s love affair with sports enough as it is, and now the nation’s beloved ESPN will be asking us to sign-up to make wagers too? It’s bad enough that you can’t watch a game without relentless chatter about whether or not a given team will cover the spread.

The mainstream acceptance of gambling in the USA is now more mainstream and acceptable than ever before.

Fighting a Losing Battle?

After this recent news regarding ESPN BET, it may feel that way. But all is not lost – not by a long shot. For instance, Kindbridge Behavioral Health is working with groups such as Mindset Sports to provide early intervention education on gambling so as to change the mindset (about gambling) of youth. We are also working with sports leagues and organizations such as NASCAR and the NFLPA PAF to ensure that the risks involved with sports betting remain at forefront of the conversation. We have also provided parents with resources for how to talk to kids about gambling advertisements that they are being exposed to on networks and streaming services. On a grander scale, Kindbridge has launched a model for problem gambling support in Colorado that can be scaled across all 50 U.S. states.

Look, the problem of sports betting gaining mainstream acceptance isn’t going away anytime soon. Today’s recent news is sure to be followed by more as America’s beloved brands can’t ignore the revenue possibilities of getting involved in real money gaming. What America can do, is empower itself by increasing its awareness about the risk factors of problem gambling and where to get ongoing support. This journey begins by following the Kindbridge resource center of problem gambling articles and news, and by reaching out to a care coordinator for help.

Has sports betting become a problem for you, your household, or organization? You’re not alone. Contact Kindbridge today to discuss your options.

CALL +1 (877) 426-4258


Email [email protected]

ESPN BET to Make Problem Gambling Even More Mainstream