ESPN takes on gambling: J-Dub and SportsChump discuss… again

I have these friends, you see?  They work at the local Hard Rock casino and are strategically placed throughout the reservation grounds.  They work at restaurants and bars.  They deal at card tables, working hard for the man at a venue that takes in an inconceivable amount of money daily.

Seriously, pick a number.  Imagine a dollar figure that you think the Seminole Hard Rock Casino rakes in a day, and I bet you’re off, considerably under by an amount that would blow your mind.

Anyway, these friends of mine have been set to high alert.  They are to inform me when construction on the new sports book begins, but more importantly, when they see craps and roulette tables being wheeled into the casino.  For that means, with it, legalized sports gambling is not far behind.

One of the more conservative states in the union remains inexplicably behind the rest of the nation with regards to the legalization of sports gambling.  Don’t get me wrong.  We constituents still do it.  We just have to know a guy.  Fortunately, I do. #Milhouse

But soon, or rather likely very soon, sports gambling will be legalized in Florida, a monopoly that will at least initially be controlled by the Seminole Indians, owners of the Hard Rock.

The Seminoles aren’t the only ones trying their hand (pun intended) at taking wagers.  The worldwide leader in misinformation also plans to take a stab.  And when I read this e-mail, courtesy of Front Office Sports, I couldn’t help but think of my friend, J-Dub.

The next player to step into the minefield will be ESPN. The sports giant — home of league insiders like Adam Schefter (NFL), Adrian Wojnarowski (NBA), and Jeff Passan (MLB) — will now face the responsibility that comes with the power to impact markets with a single tweet. 

ESPN’s $2 billion, 10-year deal with PENN Entertainment to rebrand Barstool Sportsbooks “ESPN Bet” is a giant gamble.

The word out of ESPN is that it will implement strict lines of demarcation between journalism and sports betting. The network’s insiders will be kept far away from gambling-focused programs like “Daily Wager,” sources told Front Office Sports.

On Tuesday, ESPN vowed to continue its “high standard of journalistic integrity when covering the sports betting space.” It also promised to develop a committee on “responsible gaming.”

But things get murky quickly when it comes to sports betting. Ever since the NFL backtracked on its long-standing opposition to sports betting, it has struggled with an outbreak of gambling violations by players. And more than a year ago, it was Wojnarowski who apparently changed the odds on Draft night.

As the saying goes, the next best thing to playing and winning is playing and losing. ESPN is about to roll the dice.

For years, J-Dub and I have laughed at the words “journalistic integrity” with regards to ESPN but now they’re mixing that integrity with a way to further collect a part of your paycheck, all the while lulling you into thinking the information that you’re getting is fair play. 

You’re sadly mistaken if you think that no athlete or manager will throw a game based on how he may have wagered on it now that gambling is becoming more legal nationwide.  We’ve already seen it happen in Alabama and Iowa and that is just the start.  Former Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley was suspended for the season for betting an eight-team parlay.  The violations have ranged from the tremendous to the trivial.  And now ESPN wants to take your wagers.

I know there’s a lot to unpack, Dubs, but where do we go from here?  Is ESPN crazy for entering the realm of bookmaking?  Are we crazy for entertaining the idea of placing a wager through them when they control the information?  Where does this rank on both your conflict-of-interest and destined-for-doom scale?  Should this even be allowed to happen and what’s the first thing that crossed your mind when you heard the World Wide Bottom Feeder would now be your bookie?


Saying there’s a lot to unpack in this topic is a bit of an understatement. It’s a bit like trying to get a sweaty Rosie O’Donnell out of a wet swimsuit that’s two sizes too small.  As a retired bookie who brings you the annual J-Dub Gambling Challenge, I’m going to forego any more exceptionally nauseating visuals and get right to the point.

Fuck ESPN.

Let’s be clear here. If you’re dumb enough to make a bet with an ESPN-controlled partner based on sports information you got from ESPN, you have nobody to blame but the guy you see in the mirror. This is like going to a criminal defense attorney who owns a bail bonds operation or going to a dentist who sells miniature ivory figurines.

Now, you can ask “Isn’t a blogger who writes about gambling being a bit hypocritical for criticizing ESPN for essentially doing the same thing?”

Fuck that.

Not only will Chump cover that in a bit, but this isn’t the first time we’ve been down this road. As we go through Chump’s “unpacking,” it will become quickly apparent while the dynamics of this story haven’t changed, the same cannot be said for the details.  We all know that’s where the Devil resides…in the details.

First off. If you can’t tell the difference between a newly-minted senior citizen blogger (that’s right, Chump…turning 55 makes us demographically “senior citizens”) and the multi-billion dollar World Wide Bottom Feeder, then read no further. Not only will the rest of this be lost on you, but you’re probably already late for your sketchy dentist appointment.

Having said that, let’s get to Unpack #1: “strict lines of demarcation between journalism and sports betting.”

While you’re wondering why the pain pills you got from your dentist don’t seem to do much and have a flavor reminiscent of Tic-Tacs, take time to consider that statement came from the very same organization that “demarcated” itself into over-hyping the WNBA because they carry it, welded itself to the completely fabricated side of the Duke Lacrosse story, and continues to skew it’s coverage politically.

It makes no difference which way you skew the news, once you depart from the center, the dependability of the coverage rapidly dwindles. Duke Lacrosse was the extreme example of that, and if you turn on the World Wide Bottom Feeder today, you might just think the WNBA is the most-popular sports league in America. To show that’s still as true as it ever was, allow me to quote myself:

Am I the only one who sees the problem with a major outlet of sports information also having its own gambling operation? Does nobody else see this is the setup for the most rigged of games? Think about it. If the outlet where I get a great deal of sports information also controls the book where I gamble, what’s to stop them from putting their proverbial “thumb on the scale?”

It works like this. Team A is a seven-point favorite over Team B, and as I’m about to place my action, the World Wide Bottom Feeder floats a vaguely-worded report stating Team A’s MVP-caliber quarterback is on the verge of buying a four-game suspension for violating the league’s PED policy. ESPN does this knowing it’s false, but couches it in enough “allegedly” and “unnamed source close to the league” bullshit so they can hide behind the “rules” of journalism while they deliberately manipulate the information available to gamblers.

If that doesn’t sound like a problem to you, come over to my house and we’ll play a game of Blackjack where you never get to see the cards…you just have to trust me to tell you what they are.

Bring cash.

Speaking of cash, let’s talk about Unpack#2: ESPN’s $2 billion, 10-year deal with PENN Entertainment to rebrand Barstool Sportsbooks “ESPN Bet” is a giant gamble.

For a host of reasons, ESPN has been a sucking vortex where stock prices, market value, and straight cash, Homie all go to disappear.  That was undeniable two years ago when Chump and I first visited this subject.  But now that the World Wide Bottom Feeder’s parent company Disney is feeling financial pains of its own, it’s no secret that Disney needs to either stop the bleeding at ESPN or sell it…either piece-meal or outright.

In any event, what better way is there to bump up stock prices, market value, and straight cash, homie, et cetera than to offer the allure of huge gambling revenue possibilities? Again, allow me to quote myself:

…my “Spidey-sense” tells me this may be a gigantic ruse. On one hand, ESPN has been a financial millstone around the House of the Mouse’s neck for years now. For just as long, there have been not-baseless rumors swirling about that Disney is ready to sell off the World Wide Bottom Feeder either piece-meal or as a whole. What better way would there be to pump up the sale price than to float the idea it’s about to acquire a potentially colossal revenue stream? “The Mouse” may just be offering enough cheese to get somebody to take on the foundering ship that is ESPN in the hopes the gambling revenue will off-set the losses while the new owner repairs its numerous hull breeches.

So, what’s changed? Not a goddamn thing, with the sole exception that ESPN’s financial woes have filtered up to Disney. Given all that, let me see if I’ve got a grasp on all the moving parts here. Everybody now sees gambling as the panacea to fix all the financial woes. We gamblers all think we are one big win away from the “sweet life,” governments slobber on themselves at the revenue/taxation aspects, and now corporate buttholes now see gambling as the fix-all for years worth of bad decision-making. And as the front-line gambler, I’m supposed to trust all those entities not to rig the game against me.

Do I have this about right, SportsChump?


I can see it now, Dubs.

A commercial on its own slew of unwatchable networks, sponsored obviously by ESPN itself, the Worldwide Misleader in Sports, featuring some handsome young gentleman beaming proudly, holding up a wad of cash and convincing us he’s just won a half a million dollars on the new ESPN gambling app, like the ghost of Ed McMahon offering you the opportunity of a lifetime with just one subscription, just slightly less liver-spotted.

You’ll have to excuse me.  I forgot that we dabbled in this topic just over two years ago.  I chalk it up to the lingering hangover from that “Welcome to Senior Citizenship” party you threw me, complete with a lingering side of early onset dementia.  It is interesting to see how far we’ve progressed (regressed?) in the last 700 days since we last spoke about it.

The early push for legalized sports gambling first hit a lull when the parimutuels took umbrage with the idea of the Hard Rock owning 100% of gambling rights in Florida.  One would think with such a progressive governor, legalized gambling would be fast tracked but he’s been too busy re-writing African American history and keeping crossdressers out of our schools.

But, again, I digress.

I’m not exactly sure what Penn Entertainment is.  It didn’t come up in our previous discussion regarding ESPN and gambling, but they are now major players, willing to run ESPN’s gambling applications.  Here’s what I can tell you about them.  In March of 2021, their stock was selling at about a buck-twenty a share.  Today, you can buy that same stock at about a fifth of that price.  Either way, they are now partnering with The Worldwide Gambler to promote what could become the biggest sports gambling app in America, if they manage to play their cards right (again, pun intended).  Their main objective is to go after the big two names in gaming DraftKings and FanDuel which, one can only imagine is a perfectly reasonable and attainable goal, in a perfect world.

The difference is that DraftKings and Fanduel don’t run multiple information networks.  They don’t have talking heads on television analyzing games 24/7.  Sure, they might put out some promotional materials on how to bet what but that’s a far cry from the incessant politically correct coverage of whatever sport ESPN is paid to subsidize.

As a Florida resident, I’ll probably only be allowed to gamble through the Hard Rock but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t the tiniest bit curious to see the kind of application ESPN puts together, what limits they’ll have and what you’ll be allowed to bet on.  I mean, this is a network that airs competitive pillow-fighting.  Furthermore, you can’t tell me there’s not a single sports fan who doesn’t want to become the first on their block to say they bankrupted the network by hitting large on a ten-teamer.  You too can own ESPN!!!

It would be dismissive of us to not call ESPN, at least in its inception, revolutionary but Tom Mees is not walking through that door any time soon.  The network’s involvement in sports gambling is not revolutionary.  It’s reactionary.  This could be a big deal for the network, Penn, and Disney if Iger decides to finally let that ship sail.  Or this could be a disaster of epic proportions leading to, as I hinted back in 2021, a scandal unlike any we’ve ever seen.  Either way, I look forward to the slighted coverage. And hearing about the first gambler to take the network for what amounted to Jalen Rose’s former salary.

To close, Dubs, do you see a way this endeavor works out well for the network?  What, as you see them, are the best- and worst-case scenarios for ESPN as it delves into taking wagers for a living?

Conclusion By J-Dub:

For us, it’s all good because between your dementia and my diabetes, we’re much closer to the off-ramp to Ed McMahon’s house than the youngsters ESPN is going to run a Shop-Vac over. The upside to our advanced age is it comes with wisdom.  In this case it means we know a fleece-job when we see one.

It works like this.  Once you become a senior citizen, you realize just how much of life really is a gamble. Sure, there’s the obvious like the stock/funds portfolio my 401(k) and IRAs are riding on. There’s always the chance this is the year my boss finally tires of my bullshit and finds some fresh out-of-college kid who he thinks can do my job for a third of the salary. Not to mention, you never know if today’s the day I take a tumble down my stairs and realize those LifeAlert commercials aren’t funny.

The point is when you’re me or SportsChump; two guys who have been around long enough to have Father Time snowball recreational gambling and everyday life into the world’s biggest pari-mutuel…we’ve learned two things. 

  1. There’s no such animal as a “sure thing,”
  2. We know how to spot a sucker bet.

That’s why know what’s coming here, probably because we’ve seen this movie before. In our day, we could get the point of a movie in one sitting.  But, successive generations got slippery-sloped when for some reason they made three “Porky’s” movies. Then “Rocky” became the never-ending story. Next thing you know, the “Italian Stallion’s” great-grandson will be chronicling the ‘life on the razor’s edge” world of professional pillow fighting on ESPN Ocho.

The point here is all summed up in Chump’s use of the term “revolutionary.”

He’s absolutely right when he applies that term to what ESPN did in its beginning. But that was over forty years ago.  ESPN since then has become the classic example of why revolutionary Thomas Jefferson said “every society needs a revolution every 30 years.” ESPN is over a decade beyond that limit and is just another example of what can go horribly wrong in that time.

Let’s start with music. Look at what happened to the cultural and musical revolution started by The Beatles. The “Fab Four” broke up in 1970, and 40 years later the music world was dominated by Taylor Fucking Swift.

Part of the problem with that was the melding of the worlds of music and television. MTV hit the coaxial conduit into your living room about the same time as ESPN, and aged just as badly. In 40 years, went from arguably the defining force behind music in the early 1980’s to a never-ending loop of some 50-year-old ex-skateboard doofus hosting what is little more than a warmed-over version of America’s Funniest Home Videos.

But like SportsChump said, Tom Mees ain’t walking through that door anytime soon. Neither is J.J. Jackson…or Bob Saget for that matter.

Having said all that, now I can give SportsChump’s question the answer it deserves. So…what do I see as the best and worst case scenarios for ESPN?

Best Case Scenario:

ESPN does exactly what it says it will: They manage to accomplish the “strict lines of demarcation between journalism and sports betting.” As a result, ESPN hits the “daily double” by achieving the absolute journalistic integrity which will be 100% necessary to maximize their cut of the gambling revenues. After all, gamblers don’t react well when they think they’ve been cheated.

The odds this happens: Fat fuckingchance.

Worst Case Scenario:

Here’s where history meets physics. ESPN’s past track record has no choice here but to run afoul of Sir Isaac Newton’s Second law of motion: When a body is acted upon by a force, the time rate of change of its momentum equals the force.

In this case, ESPN itself is the “body,” the “force” is ESPN’s financial woes/need for revenue, and the amount of force acting on the body is measured in straight cash, Homie.  Putting this all in “layman’s terms,” ESPN will move in whichever direction the money pushes it, and its thirst for money will determine the rate of change.

Now, for the really shitty part.  I’m reticent to get into the political angle here, but because of demonstrable decisions the World Wide Bottom Feeder has made, avoiding that angle is impossible.  The fact of the matter is ESPN’s current problems have a lot to do with politics. Like I said, it isn’t about which way one skews things; the fact an entity is willing to make that skew affects the integrity of the “news” they report.  It also means the mindset willing to enact those skews has its fingerprints all over the decision-making process.

ESPN’s track-record here is undeniable. The “brain trust” has long lived in a world where they think the WNBA draws as much interest as the NBA, that baseball is a “dying” sport, and more importantly, that media coverage can be made to equal fan interest.

All tolled, that means people who make those kinds of decisions believe in “equality of outcome.” In this case, that’s going to become a massive problem because gambling is the clearest example of “equality of opportunity.” What do you think is going to happen with an entity that believes in putting it’s thumb on the scale to get the outcome it wants running an operation whose life-blood is the player’s belief in a “fair game.”

If ESPN takes that route, look for them to end up chained to an engine block at the bottom of the river like every other gambling cheater.

The odds this happens: Just shy of those for the sun rising in the east tomorrow.

P.S. Speaking of America’s Funniest Home Videos and “old TV” in general, I hope Bob Saget, Tom Mees and J.J. Jackson are all in the same section of the Hereafter with Ed McMahon. It’s no sucker bet to think that might make an interesting backyard barbecue combination. We could move the TV out to the patio, do some grilling and throw back a few beverages, and bet on ESPN pillow fighting.

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