Disney's surprising foray into sports betting

The shocking deal exemplifies just how big sports gambling is in the US

basketball court
(Image credit: Getty Images / simonkr)

In the early evening on Aug. 8, businessman Dave Portnoy made a shock announcement: He had bought back 100% of his company Barstool Sports, which he had previously sold to casino operator Penn Entertainment for $551 million, effective immediately. "The regulated industry" is "probably not the best place for Barstool Sports and the type of content we make," Portnoy said in a video posted on social media. And while he wishes Penn "nothing but the best in their endeavors," "for the first time in forever, we [at Barstool] don't have to watch what we say, how we talk, what we do. It's back to the pirate ship." Penn will receive 50% of the proceeds should Portnoy decide to eventually sell his brand, but he claimed in the video that he will "hold it 'til I die."

Meanwhile, Penn also as part of the deal announced a $2 billion online sports betting partnership with the Disney-owned ESPN, which will see Penn rebrand its current Barstool Sportsbook (the operation created in conjunction with Barstool) as ESPN Bet. Overall, the deal marks quite the watershed moment for the family-friendly Disney, considering mouse house leadership has long resisted diving directly into the sports betting space. But given the size of the market and the opportunity it presents for a semi-washed-up sports network, company CEO Bob Iger has finally acquiesced.

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Brigid Kennedy

Brigid Kennedy worked at The Week from 2021 to 2023 as a staff writer, junior editor and then story editor, with an interest in U.S. politics, the economy and the music industry.