Regulators Say ESPN Bet Still Has Hurdles To Clear Before Ohio Launch

Written By C.J. Pierre on October 26, 2023 - Last Updated on October 27, 2023
A picture of hurdles for a story about the tasks still standing in the way of ESPN Bet's launch in Ohio

Ohioans are about a month away from ESPN Bet’s launch. At least, we think so.

The plan is to have ESPN Bet replace Barstool Sportsbook as one of the 20 Ohio online sportsbooks. The move comes after PENN Entertainment’s $2 billion deal with ESPN. PENN’s president and CEO, Jay Snowden, says that ESPN Bet will launch sometime in November.

“Certainly before Thanksgiving,” Snowden said during the company’s Q2 earnings call.

However, the rebrand or relaunch isn’t as simple as changing a logo and a few color schemes. Before ESPN Bet Ohio is an option, Penn needs the green light from the Ohio Casino Control Commission. But the anticipated launch date is about a month away, and regulators haven’t given the go-ahead yet.

What is left for ESPN Bet to launch in Ohio?

PENN’s transition from Barstool to ESPN Bet still needs approval from Ohio sports betting regulators. OCC spokesperson Jessica Franks told PlayOhio that the commission and PENN have been in contact regarding the change. The commission must ensure that ESPN Bet complies with Ohio’s sports betting laws.

“While the PENN/ESPN Bet deal involves mainly branding rights, the sportsbook will still need to meet all regulatory requirements,” Franks said.

All Ohio sports betting operators must have house rules and internal procedures approved by the commission. PENN officials have stated that the ESPN Bet rebrand won’t change the site’s tech stack. They called the changes strictly “cosmetic.”

PENN will update its house rules, terms and conditions and internal controls to remove references to Barstool Sportsbook. Those revisions need to be reviewed and approved by the OCCC.

“Sports gaming equipment is required to be tested by an independent testing lab and approved before being used,” Franks said. “If PENN makes any changes to their rules, procedures or equipment as a result of the switch those will require commission approval.”

Will ESPN Bet Ohio launch be delayed beyond November?

Since more work is needed before PENN can launch ESPN Bet Ohio, it’s possible the company can’t adhere to the late-November launch. Barstool Sportsbook is currently operating in 16 states, including Ohio.

Thus, it’s possible that the launch is on a different timeline in each state.

For example, Massachusetts gambling regulators plan to go through the PENN/ESPN partnership with a fine-toothed comb before approving the transition. However, things work a little bit differently in Ohio.

PENN’s changes do need to be approved first. But OCCC rules allow Executive Director Matthew Schuler to approve the changes on his own. Consequently, the changes don’t need to be heard at a commission meeting.

That should help streamline the approval process for PENN in Ohio. Since the site’s tech stack isn’t changing, it shouldn’t be too hard to get Schuler’s approval.

Unless something unexpected happens, ESPN Bet should be able to launch in Ohio as soon as PENN is ready. The company has yet to provide a specific date for the site’s launch.

Snowden says launching in November is a “product-led decision.” It allows engineers enough time to update the new app and prepare to transfer Barstool customers to the new platform.

Snowden also says that he sees the late entry as an advantage. While building anticipation for the launch, ESPN Bet sat out the early season flood of football promotions and plans to swoop in when things have died down a little.

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C.J. Pierre

C.J. Pierre is a Lead Writer at PlayOhio. He has been covering news and sports for over a decade for both online and TV broadcasts. He was born and raised in Minneapolis, MN and is an alum of Minnesota State University: Moorhead. He recently dove into tribal casino, sports betting and online gambling news. He also covered the launch of sports betting in Arizona. C.J. has experience as a reporter and videographer and has covered high school, college and professional sports throughout his career, most notably following Arizona Cardinals, Phoenix Suns, Minnesota Vikings and North Dakota State University football.

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