ESPN employees have long had the opportunity to place legal sports bets. But that access will become more complicated starting Tuesday, when operator PENN Entertainment launches the ESPN BET app in 17 states.
So just ahead of that launch, the company has taken extra measures to spell out its expectations by issuing “Sports Betting Guidelines” to its approximately 5,000 employees, as reported Friday by Front Office Sports.
In early October, an ESPN spokesperson told Sports Handle the network was finalizing its guidelines regarding employee use of the ESPN BET product, and now employee guidelines are finalized — with no mention of ESPN BET. The newly distributed rules apply to all betting behavior at any sportsbook or on any mobile betting app.
Information, injuries, insiders, influence
The missive sent to employees begins with a general overview:
At ESPN, we are dedicated to upholding the integrity of our brand and the events we broadcast. These Sports Betting Guidelines (“Guidelines”) establish the expected standards of behavior for our employees. They aim to define prohibited betting activities clearly and serve as a reference to ensure compliance.
These Guidelines work in conjunction with and supplement The Walt Disney Company’s Standards of Business Conduct and applicable TWDC employee policy manual or handbook (e.g., the U.S. Employee Policy Manual).
From there, the letter establishes ground rules and “prohibited betting activities.”
The “don’t” list begins with sharing non-public information “for any betting-related purposes.” As a specific example, the guidelines point to information about a player’s injury status.
For many ESPN beat reporters, sharing information about a player’s chances of suiting up — whether on social media, in an article, or during an on-air hit — is central to their job. The idea here is clearly to maintain a level playing field by requiring those reporters to share any such information publicly, rather than privately with either bettors or sportsbook operators.
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The headline-grabbing rules are that ESPN employees may not “place bets on games or events you are assigned to work or cover” and that “Talent designated as Reporters and Insiders are prohibited from placing, soliciting, or facilitating any bet on the properties (e.g., NFL, college football, NBA) they regularly cover.”
So, Adam Schefter may not, under any circumstances, place an NFL wager. Nor may Tim McManus, who specifically covers the Philadelphia Eagles for ESPN. If you’re paid to regularly write about tennis for ESPN, you can’t bet on tennis. But it would appear if you’ve been assigned a one-off to sit in the production truck and work a 2024 Wimbledon broadcast, you can wager on other tennis events — just not next year’s Wimbledon.
A related rule states that “Employees who learn Confidential Information from Reporters or Insiders should never use such information for betting-related purposes.”
Additionally, extending beyond journalists and production workers, “Employees who manage the Company’s business relationships with sports leagues or properties on a day-to-day basis are prohibited from betting on those sports leagues or properties.”
When in doubt …
If you’ve listened to a Bill Simmons podcast about the NBA anytime in the last several years and heard him mention that he can’t bet on NBA awards because he votes on those awards, the next guideline, prefaced with the phrase, “Be extra cautious about certain types of bets,” should seem particularly obvious:
“Certain types of bets are more susceptible to the influence of Confidential Information, because the outcomes are primarily determined by off-field decisions rather than on-field play. If there is any chance you have relevant Confidential Information, do not wager on awards votes (e.g., MVP, Cy Young), player personnel decisions (e.g., ‘Which team will Player X sign with?’), draft selections (e.g., ‘Who will be the first WR chosen in the NFL Draft?’) or other similar types of bets.”
The next two paragraphs of the guidelines feature relatively vague generalities, but ESPN employees would probably be best served adopting an attitude of, “When in doubt, don’t bet.”
The first of these paragraphs begins, “Uphold our journalistic integrity.” In short, ESPN wants a wall between its journalism and all sportsbooks. Any employee behavior that could impact betting lines or sportsbook operations is prohibited.
The next paragraph starts with the words, “Avoid conflicts of interest.” This is all but impossible in the modern media age. If, say, you are paid by ESPN to cover college basketball and you have a choice between focusing your next column on a game that will air on ESPN and one that will not, you have a conflict of interest. Still, the bottom line in the guidelines is that employees should avoid betting in any circumstance that could raise conflict-of-interest questions above and beyond those they encounter every day.
The guidelines conclude with a ban on illegal gambling by employees. Those who live in states without regulated sports betting who partake in wagering with bookies or offshore operators, because it’s their only option without crossing state lines, are now putting their jobs at risk if they continue to do so.
As for whether ESPN employees are allowed to have accounts on ESPN BET, that is not addressed in the rules. Interestingly, a poll on Twitter/X posted last Friday in response to a post from Action Network’s Darren Rovell suggests (with a limited sample size) that public sentiment is evenly divided on that one:
ESPN BET is almost here — get in on the action with our exclusive ESPN BET promo code when ESPN BET launches Nov. 14.
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