It wasn’t exactly the sort of thing you expected to hear from a family-friendly, positive-values company like Disney.
CEO Bob Chapek was asked at the D23 fan-service fiesta in Anaheim the other day about sports betting. After all, the company owns ESPN, the high-profile sports network.
“We’re working very hard on that,” Chapek answered.
One can almost picture Mickey Mouse’s eyes going wide in astonishment.
Not that it’s a bad business decision.
Sports betting and online gambling are clearly gaining traction in the United States. A number of state and federal bills are aimed at facilitating a domestic sports-betting industry.
One recent report found that the sports betting market will grow from about $77 billion last year to more than $167 billion by 2029.
Chapek himself noted that sports betting is a frequent request from Disney’s under-35 sports fans.
Adding gambling functionality to the ESPN app, in other words, is a smart move.
But is it the right one?
Chapek told Deadline that “there’s so many dimensions of sports and we’re passionate about it, and we have a plan.”
One of those dimensions, however, is that gambling can be addictive — and can ruin the lives of individuals and families.
Not to be glib, but if a wholesome brand like Disney can embrace gambling in the name of entertainment, couldn’t it make the same argument for Disney-branded alcohol or cigarettes?
After all, these too are leisure products that many people enjoy and ask for.
What about Disney weed? A Disney escort service?
I know such suggestions sound ludicrous, but are they any more far-fetched than a Disney-run casino (which is essentially what a sports-betting app is).
In the end, financial considerations will win out, and ESPN undoubtedly will be a leading player in online sports gambling.
But make no mistake: That’s no spoonful of sugar.
It’s a bottle of trouble for anyone who gets hooked.