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ESPN Bet to debut in North Carolina with PGA sponsorship deal

| By Nick Brown
ESPN Bet signs major PGA Tour deal as official betting operator of the Wells Fargo Championship in North Carolina.
BetMGM gain access to IMG Arena's Golf Event Centre

ESPN Bet is expected to launch in North Carolina after agreeing a deal to become the Quail Hollow Golf Club’s official betting operator.

After launching across 17 states on 14 November to coincide with Thanksgiving week, Tuesday’s (5 December) announcement sets up ESPN Bet to be one of the 12 operators licensed in North Carolina.

This follows the North Carolina State Lottery Commission announcing that it is now starting the application process for sports betting licences from 1 December. The state is expected to open in the first half of 2024.

ESPN Bet’s agreement with Quail Hollow Club, a golf course in North Carolina, will see the company become the official betting operator of the Wells Fargo Championship.

The PGA Tour event has been previously won by Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy and is held at Quail Hollow Club.

In a press release on Tuesday, Benjie Levy, head of Penn Interactive, pointed to increased fan engagement and player acquisition as two of the main benefits the deal will bring.

“We are thrilled to partner with Quail Hollow Club and the Wells Fargo Championship as we prepare to bring our new online sports betting brand, ESPN Bet, to North Carolina,” Levy said.

“Along with market access, we’re excited to sponsor the popular Wells Fargo Championship and look forward to working together with our new partners to create unique fan activations.”

Johnny Harris, president of Quail Hollow Club, stated: “We welcome the upcoming launch of regulated online sports wagering in North Carolina and are extremely pleased to partner with a leading gaming and entertainment operator in Penn Entertainment.

“Penn’s compelling online sports betting brand ESPN Bet, with cutting-edge technology and extensive operational expertise, make them an ideal long-term partner for this industry.”

ESPN Bet: The launch so far

ESPN Bet is the result of a $1.5bn (£1.2bn/€1.4bn) deal earlier this year between Penn Entertainment and Disney-owned ESPN.

Penn’s rights to the ESPN Bet brand will run for an initial 10 years, although there is the option of a decade-long extension.

The launch is Penn’s pivot away from Barstool Sportsbook, sold back to Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy back in August.

In a recent interview with iGB, Mike Morrison, vice-president of ESPN’s sports-betting arm, was delighted with the “really smooth” November launch.

“We’re thrilled. Everything is working very well,” Morrison explained. “Some of the early reviews we’ve seen are really good. Teams are energised and excited on both sides.”

Despite heavy expectations, Morrison believes ESPN Bet is thriving under the pressure, saying: “We’re surely in a position where we want to be very successful here. We are, by our natures, competitive and excited on high levels of achievement.

“You have a lot of what we’ll call Type-A personalities on both sides and we desire to be successful here.”

North Carolina expected to be competitive market

With the 2024 opening of online betting in North Carolina getting ever-closer, ESPN Bet is the latest operator to make its move.

In November, Bet365 announced a deal to become the official betting partner of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets. BetMGM and Fanatics are also rumoured to be among those competing for the 12 licences available in the state, as well as US giants DraftKings and FanDuel.

Operators have a deadline of 27 December to get their applications submitted, with the licensing and vetting process not expected to be completed until after the Super Bowl in February.

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