Kentucky Council Blesses ESPN BET Rebrand, Recommends Additions to Sports Wagering Catalog


ESPN BET officially launched last week in 17 states, including Kentucky.

Last Updated:
Nov 21, 2023 12:11 PM ET

Read Time: 4 min

ESPN BET is already live in Kentucky, and regulators there are OK with that, even if they are making that public after the fact.

The Kentucky Sports Wagering Advisory Council, which, as its name suggests, helps guide the state’s recently launched event wagering industry, met Tuesday and gave its blessing to the new online sportsbook. 

Specifically, the council recommended the full Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC) ratify executive director Jamie Eads’ preliminary approval of a subsidiary of PENN Entertainment Inc. rebranding its former Barstool Sportsbook to ESPN BET.

ESPN BET officially launched last week in 17 states, including Kentucky. KHRC sports wagering director Hans Stokke said Tuesday that the regulator heard about the looming change in early October and received a “long-form” agreement between PENN and ESPN for their new betting partnership. 

“We reviewed those pages and the relationship proposed between ESPN broadcast and programming in relation to PENN’s sportsbook products, and what that would look like as a rebrand to ESPN BET,” Stokke said. “We reviewed a guardrails document that outlines the segregation of duties and alleviated our concerns about the conflict of interest between ESPN programming and PENN providing that sports wagering component.”

What’s in a name?

PENN Sports Interactive is a licensed sports betting service provider in Kentucky, but it was originally approved as doing business as Barstool Sportsbook. The operator needed to notify the KHRC about the rebrand, which is now approved by the regulator’s executive director and recommended for approval by the commission as a whole.

While the KHRC is blessing the rebrand after it has already taken place and ESPN BET is taking wagers, it does mean another state regulator publicly considered the implications of, arguably, the biggest name in sports media diving into the wagering business.

ESPN and PENN struck a $2-billion deal that allows the former’s name to be used in connection with sports betting, with the companies hoping their partnership will allow them to grab a significant share of the U.S. wagering market. 

However, some concerns were raised publicly by regulators in Massachusetts about the use of ESPN talent in promoting the new online sportsbook. ESPN eventually issued formal guidelines to its employees before the ESPN BET launch, explaining what they can and can’t do, including banning “insiders” from gambling on the leagues they regularly cover. 

The comments made Tuesday suggest Kentucky regulators have given that some thought as well. Retail sports betting began in Kentucky on Sept. 7, and online sports betting sites joined the fray on Sept. 28.

The wagering wish list

Kentucky’s advisory council also recommended several adjustments to the state’s sports betting catalog on Tuesday, including adding several Athletes Unlimited’s women’s sports leagues, NCAA volleyball, and Dana White’s Contender Series for the UFC. 

The committee recommended adding TGL golf as well, although the Tiger Woods-backed organization was forced to postpone its launch by a year after the roof of its proposed indoor venue collapsed.

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