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The Walt Disney Co. is taking a gamble on sports betting.

The entertainment giant, notoriously conservative when it comes to protecting its brand, will use ESPN as its entry point into the fast-growing sector. “Given our reach and scale, we have the potential to partner with third parties in this space in a very meaningful way,” Disney CEO Bob Chapek told analysts during a Nov. 10 earnings call.

The decision to pursue a multibillion-dollar betting deal is something of a strategic pivot for the company, which for years said that the only role sports betting had at ESPN was as one more piece of its TV programming.

It was on May 14, 2018, that the U.S. Supreme Court paved the way for legalized sports betting in the U.S. via its ruling in Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association. A day later, speaking to reporters in a hallway in New York’s Minskoff Theatre after the channel’s upfront presentation, ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro (only two months into the job) sounded skeptical of an active role by the company in that line of business, calling the potential “interesting,” but only when it came to gambling-focused programming or segments on its TV shows.


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