Disney Launches Gambling App, Destroys Family-Friendly Image

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Mickey Mouse sadly walking from a casino sign

Credit: Disney/Canva

The Walt Disney Company has done the unthinkable and launched a new, heavily promoted gambling service, further tarnishing the company’s once family-friendly public image.

Mickey Mouse in front of the Cinderella Castle inside the Magic Kingdom with a couple of children
Credit: Disney

It is no secret that Disney has been financially struggling in the last year, despite taking in unprecedented Disney Parks revenue by inflating prices for annual passes, hotel rooms, and pretty much everything it could. The Disney+ streaming service is costing the company hundreds of millions (despite also raising subscription prices) and the company has been reeling from box office failure to failure with films like Lightyear (2022), Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, and, most recently, The Marvels.

It seems that Disney has a solution for all of this: sports betting.

Related: Disney Panics, Gives Out Free ESPN Subscriptions

Bob Chapek and Penn Entertainment

It was not that long ago that Disney claimed that it would never get into the arena of sports betting, which is to say, legalized online gambling in the mold of DraftKings and FanDuel.

The new logo for ESPN Bet, the sports gambling service
Credit: ESPN

However, it seems that times have changed, and Disney is going all in on sports betting, partnering with casino company PENN Entertainment to launch ESPN Bet, the company’s own proprietary gambling service. ESPN Bet was launched earlier this week and is currently available in 17 states: Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.

The company is even using ESPN Bet to add cash incentives of hundreds of dollars to try to hook people on the service, including bonus bets for users who place at least one wager and a $1,000 100% deposit match offer (per Benzinga).

The controversial move into sports betting actually began last year, when former Disney CEO Bob Chapek indicated that the company was looking to get into gambling via ESPN. Chapek said in an interview that sports betting fans wanted “the ability to have a frictionless sports betting potential with not having to have four screens in front of you…[W]e, as ESPN have the ability to do that.”

Bob Chapek Named in new Lawsuit against Disney Company. Bob Chapek on the right and Disney World Picture with Disney logo on the left
Credit: Inside the Magic

While Chapek was insistent at the time that gambling would remain apart from the main Disney brand, things are not working out that way.

Related: Disney Targets Young Fans During Growing Gambling Epidemic

Bob Iger, ESPN, and ESPN+

At one point, the Disney and ESPN brands were largely separate in the public eye, current CEO Bob Iger is doing everything he can to change that, which has some real ramifications for the move into sports gambling.

Since returning to Disney after less than a year of retirement, ostensibly to save the flailing company from disaster, Bob Iger has made it clear that the future of the company is in streaming content. More specifically, the CEO wants to eventually combine all of Disney’s various apps, meaning Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+, into a service that can be bundled into one very expensive subscription.

Bob Iger surrounded by slot machines in a casino
Credit: Canva/Disney

The problem here is that means that associating ESPN with sports gambling via ESPN Bet will unavoidably mean that both Disney and Hulu (which are already scheduled to be merged as early as next month) will become part of the betting network.

Iger has already warned parents that the merged Disney and Hulu services will bring a greater need for parental vigilance and control over mature content, and bringing sports betting into it will only increase that. If Disney wants to stay a family-friendly company, it’s really not showing it.

Should Disney be associating itself with sports gambling? Is this a final straw? Give us your thoughts in the comments below!

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