In the bustling world of mobile sports wagering, entertainment titan Penn Entertainment is making strategic moves to carve its mark in the lucrative New York market with its newly minted ESPN Bet application. At the heart of the industry buzz, as Truist gaming analyst Barry Jonas observed during the recent 11th Annual Truist Securities GLLR Summit, lies the quest for Penn to stake its claim in a domain notorious for both its immense potential and its formidable challenges.
The intrigue has intensified with Penn CEO Jay Snowden’s commentary pointing toward an ambitious pivot. This comes after an earlier expression of ambivalence about the state’s sports wagering landscape, which is saturated with high stakes and a hefty 51% tax rate. Snowden, whose candid reflections in 2021 echoed concerns about the New York market’s ability to erode margins, seems to have embraced a new mantra: to be in the game is to play the odds favorably, regardless of the financial tightrope it necessitates.
This seasoned approach aligns with New York’s status as the sports betting behemoth of the United States, surpassed by none in terms of handle and revenue. Yet, operators must navigate the quagmire of profitability within a framework that is less than hospitable by most accounting standards.
As Penn Entertainment eyes the entry gate, the mechanism for ESPN Bet’s integration into New York is cushioned with legislative and strategic barriers. With the current licensing pacts filled since the 2021 ascendancy of online sports betting in the state, the options are sparse. Penn might have to play the waiting game or engage in the complex dance of acquisition. Challenges loom as potential sellers are scarce. The high-flying ensemble of FanDuel, DraftKings, Caesars Sportsbook, BetMGM, and BetRivers—along with the diligent newcomer Fanatics—appear to be deeply rooted in their territory.
The periphery, however, whispers opportunities as WynnBET, Resorts World Bet, and Bally Bet may hold the keys Penn needs. Yet, even this avenue is fraught with speculation, especially with the trifecta eying golden tickets to downstate casino permits that would tighten their grip on the existing licenses. Wynn Resorts dangles as the enigma in this tale, its future actions hinging on the outcome of the casino license shuffle.
Beyond the New York endeavor, ESPN Bet’s financial narrative unfolds with caution. Jonas elaborates that early fiscal shadows could cast losses beyond the expected $100 million to $150 million, delaying the warmth of profitability until 2025. Meanwhile, Penn’s strategic frugality surfaces; it withholds from share repurchase under a previously announced $750 million buyback program, instead funneling its resources towards nurturing the growth of ESPN Bet.
The machinations of Penn Entertainment as it endeavor to chart its ESPN Bet odyssey in New York are a testament to the complex alchemy of risk, strategy, and opportunity that defines the high-stakes world of sports wagering.