ESPN BET — yes, it’s all capitals — launched Tuesday, and it was probably the most discussed sports betting app debut since the days and months immediately post-PASPA.
After all, this is ESPN. This is Disney. This is also PENN Entertainment, but to almost everyone outside this thing of ours, no one realizes (or cares about) that. This is, almost certainly, the new zenith of legal sports betting going mainstream.
And ESPN is clearly going all-in. There was a lot of talk, pre-launch, about how heavily involved the ESPN personalities were going to be with the product. That speculation ended around 3:40 p.m. ET Tuesday when the app went live.
Elle Duncan had her own special bet (Georgia Bulldogs to win the NCAA football national championship, boosted to 275). Mike Greenberg had a branded boost, “Seeing Green,” where you could bet on Joe Burrow and Lamar Jackson to combine for 500 yards and 4 passing touchdowns in Thursday night’s game at 450.
And while those were the only two personalities with their own boosts out of the gate, it would certainly seem like others will get into the act.
No FOMO on promo
All right — time for the review. Let’s start with the first thing everyone looks for: the sign-up bonuses and promos.
ESPN BET’s main offer is simply awesome, and I give PENN, ESPN, Disney, and whoever else was at the table great credit for getting it done. The promo: Make any bet, get $200 in free bets (in four $50 multiples). This is for new customers, old customers, all customers. And while I, as a former Barstool Sportsbook customer, was not seemingly eligible for an extra $50 bet with Sports Handle’s ESPN BET promo code, brand new customers are. (Or perhaps I signed up too early. It’s unclear.)
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Either way, I got $200 worth of free bets for just showing up, even though I was already signed up. This was a smart move, as it 100% guarantees I’m going to check out the app. Heck, it’s already made it to my home screen, which should be the goal of any app.
When it comes to bonusing, ESPN BET gets a 10/10.
There is another bonus only for new customers: an up-to-$1,000 deposit match. But — as with most bonuses of this ilk — there is a catch. While the money is there, in order to withdraw it, you need to achieve 20x playthrough, and you need to do it within 30 days. Translation: Deposit $1,000, get another $1,000, but you have to wager $21,000 (the original $1,000 plus 20 times the bonus) to be able to make a withdrawal of the bonus money. Obviously, if one plans on wagering this much, it’s a fine enough deal. But not everyone is looking to get down a used 2022 Nissan Sentra in a month’s time.
Of course, if you do want to bet that kind of money, you’ll want to do it at a sportsbook that offers competitive odds.
And so far, ESPN BET does just that.
Odds in line
For instance, in Wednesday night’s slate of NBA games, I compared spread and moneyline odds between ESPN BET and the two leaders in the sportsbook space, FanDuel and DraftKings.
On the spreads (and obviously only on spreads that were the same), ESPN BET beat FanDuel a few times, beat DraftKings a few times, lost to both a few times. Nothing out of the ordinary.
On moneyline action, ESPN BET outright beat the other two books three out 16 times and lost outright only once, though it tied for the “worst” odds another six times.
So on the odds front, I’d give ESPN BET an 8/10. Not the best, not the worst — more or less in line with what the big guns are offering.
As for props and such, there is a full menu for the big sports, though there are no alternate lines outside of the spread and total for the teams. So if you want to ladder a player prop, you’re out of luck at ESPN BET, at least for now.
But one thing it does have — and it’s something — is “no” bets on touchdowns for NFL players, and the sportsbook will even let you parlay them together. This is something I’ve never seen from America’s collection of “soft” retail books. (It will also let you “no” bet a first-touchdown score and parlay those together.)
Boosts and more
When it comes to boosts and featured bets, ESPN BET was offering a bevy of them, from the above-mentioned personality-driven boosts to other, often parlay-type offers. Are these boosts EV? Insert shrugging shoulders emoji here, because it’s hard to say if 120 is decent odds for one among Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, and Viktor Hovland to win the DP World Tour Championship, boosted from even odds.
What have been missing so far are more straightforward promo and boost options, such as a 50% boost on such-and-such a market or single-player prop boosts.
And even the most basic boost being offered — the Elle Duncan University of Georgia national championship play at 275 — is just OK-ish, as the Bulldogs can be had for 260 at Caesars. Obviously, 275 is better, but there is a limit to it — at least in my case, where the most I can bet is $181.82.
Overall, let’s go with 6/10 on boosts.
As for that dreaded word, “limit,” it seems as if any limiting on sides that was done via the Barstool app has been lifted — again, at least in my case. It is letting me bet thousands of dollars on NBA sides, something I definitely was not allowed to do 24 hours earlier, before the branding switch.
How do I know? Because ESPN BET tells you what your limit is before you bet. Just start typing a large number into the bet slip, and once you go over your limit, a note will pop up telling you what your limit is. FanDuel does this, DraftKings doesn’t. It’s highly helpful information to have, clearly.
Look and feel
When it comes to the look and feel of the app, I have no issues. The interface is clean, it loads fast, there was no lag time on the small bets I placed. It’s proving a smooth user experience all around, which is notable because A) not all sportsbooks offer a smooth user experience, and B) this app just launched and it’s kinda crazy that there have been no substantive issues with it.
As for deposit and withdrawal options, it seems like everything short of Diners Club and your Costco membership card is accepted.
I’d go 10/10 here for look, feel, and ease of use.
Overall, the ESPN BET experience is quite fine.
But the $64,000(000,000) question is, will “quite fine” be enough to launch ESPN BET into the rarefied sportsbook air where FanDuel and DraftKings reside? For that answer, check back in five years or so.
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