Playbook ESPN BET Will Use To Drive Customers To Its Michigan Online Casino

Written By Dave Briggs on November 7, 2023
ESPN BET hopes to convert Michigan online sports bettors to casino players

Michigan’s cross-border neighbors in Ontario recently provided somoe important intel as to how ESPN BET hopes to convert its sports information customers to online casino players.

ESPN BET plans to launch in Michigan on Nov. 14, if it gets the approval of the Michigan Gaming Control Board. ESPN BET is replacing Barstool Sportsbook as PENN Entertainment’s US sports betting brand.

Recently, PlayMichigan tested the experience using ESPN BET’s Ontario partner, theScore Bet to see how easy it is to go from reading a sports story about the Detroit Lions to placing a small wager on the Lions and then on to the casino to bet.

Both ESPN BET and Toronto-based theScore Bet are owned by PENN. On its third-quarter earnings call last week, PENN touted how theScore Bet has shown success in Ontario — a market that currently has 47 live online gambling operators compared to Michigan’s 15. PENN said theScore bet has been particularly successful in driving consumers from its popular theScore sports news app on to its sportsbook and then over to the casino.

PENN said it plans to use the Ontario playbook for the ESPN launch in the US. One of the reasons is theScore has its own proprietary technology driving PENN’s online gambling operations.

Banking more on the eyeball principle than active conversion

PENN is banking on consumers of the popular ESPN and theScore sports media apps moving from sports information on to the separate sports betting app to place bets.

On the eyeball front, ESPN has more than 25 million unique active monthly US users of its app. Meanwhile, theScore says it has some 4-5 million active users of  its media platform.

Once on the sports betting app, customers in Michigan and Ontario can then choose to go to the casino, where the real money is in online gambling.

Of the more than $5 billion in lifetime online gambling revenue in the Great Lakes State, 80% was driven by online casinos in Michigan.

In all, it took me about nine minutes to go from scanning a few recent Detroit Lions articles on theScore app to placing a small bet on the next Lions’ game and then on to the casino to place one bet before exiting.

But the experience was not the magical transitional process PENN might have you believe.

Instead, it appears any success theScore can claim in Ontario is more about eyeballs from legacy media app customers familiar with theScore’s branding than technology that encourages play.

And, maybe that’s a good thing. There’s a good chance I would have been turned off if theScore had been pushing me harder to place a bet or go to the casino.


From Lions news to a Lions bet and on to the online casino

I set a timer and opened theScore media app. I was greeted by the “top” sports news. From there, I clicked the NFL tab at the top and above a few articles — one on updated power rankings, the other on the Chargers’ Monday Night Football win over the Jets. It is notable that this screen had a message at the top reading:


Bet on the the NFL, today at theScore Bet!

Play responsibly, 19+, ON only

I didn’t click theScore Bet’s logo. But, one presumes I would have been taken to the separate theScore Bet app if I had.

Instead, I quickly popped over to my favorites, selected the Lions. I was greeted with the results of Detroit’s most recent win against the Raiders and the Lions’ next game on Sunday against the Chargers.

theScore Bet screenshots

No betting options were apparent on this screen. Nor were there any when I clicked on news and selected three different articles to read. Even the power rankings story did not seem to provide a way to head over to theScore Bet to place a wager.

It’s only after I clicked on the schedule tab and then picked the Lions’ next game that both odds and a link that said: Go to theScore Bet appeared.

theScore Bet screenshots

I hit the link and was taken right to the Lions vs. Chargers game on theScore Bet app. That was, indeed, very slick.

Kudos to theScore for the RG messaging, but it could be tweaked

In fairness, the betting options on a Tuesday for Sunday’s game were limited to bets on the lines. The parlay+, game props, player props, TD scorers and specials tabs all said: No bets available. Check back soon.

So, just for the exercise, I went back to the lines and placed a $5 moneyline bet on the Chargers — only because I didn’t want to jinx the Lions by betting on them. Lions fans, by nature, are fragile after years of suffering. The Chargers were +110 at home. So, if I cash — which, I honestly hope I don’t for Detroit’s sake – I will win a whopping $5.50.

One thing I liked was after I placed the bet, a responsible gambling pop-up ad appeared that read:

Responsible Gaming Limits

Would you like to set your responsible gaming limits (e.g. Deposit Limit, Daily Time Limit, Spending Limit)?

theScore Bet screenshots

Honestly, I thought I had set up the limits on all the apps when I signed up for them. So, that was a little concerning.

And, pro tip from the RG experts: Use the responsible gambling limits on all your apps to protect yourself.

Also, I think it would have been better to bring up the responsible gambling message before it accepted my bet. But, I did appreciate theScore having the message at all.

Nothing really encouraging me to go to the casino

As for encouraging people to go to the online casino, there was nothing I saw on theScore app that did that. Again, that’s likely a good thing. But, it does poke holes in PENN’s statements about how it has successfully transferred players from its media app to its sportsbook and on to the online casino.

From my admittedly quick and unscientific experiment, it seems like any transition success theScore claims is more a product of the volume of customers that might be familiar with the brand and simply choose to go to the casino via a link at the bottom of the screen.

Once at theScore’s online casino, I tried to keep up the football theme by finding a football-themed game.

I typed “football” into the search window. Options were presented to go back to the sportsbook, which is handy, or on to the lone football-themed casino game.

theScore Bet screenshots IMG_1940

I selected the latter. Then, I placed a single $5 bet on a completely confounding game involving cards placed over a football field.

I still have zero idea how the game is played, but I did it once for “science.” My $5 was gone in about five seconds and so was I. Off the app and gone.

I didn’t enjoy my online casino experience. But, it was extremely limited and it certainly helps to know the game you are playing.

Again, it also helps to set limits, especially on how much you bet.

Takeaway: Slick, but not exactly compelling

It was slick and seamless going from theScore’s media app on to theScore Bet to place a wager and on to the casino.

I was pleasantly surprised that I could read stories without being prompted to bet.

I also was pleasantly surprised that nothing popped up trying to entice me to go to the online casino. Though, theScore does typically send offers via email shortly after I have been on their apps.

Do I think theScore model is a good strategy for ESPN BET to follow? Yes, but only because “the world leader in sports” gets a lot of eyeballs.

But, against more proven competitors in the Michigan sports betting and online casino space, it will be a tall order for PENN / ESPN BET to climb the rankings.

Will PENN actively try to drive handle starting with messaging via the ESPN media app? That part does not appear to be a part of their plan.

Photo by PlayMichgian
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Dave Briggs

Dave Briggs is a managing editor and writer for Catena Media. His expertise is covering the gambling industry in Michigan with an emphasis on online casino, online sports betting and horse racing sectors. He is currently reporting on the gambling industries in Michigan and Canada.

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