Upstart, Outlier And Dark Horse Sportsbooks To Watch In North Carolina

Online sports betting is all set to launch in North Carolina on March 11, and a slate of outlier sportsbooks prepares to challenge the industry leaders for market share.

We have a good idea of what options North Carolinians will be able to pick from. Industry leaders like FanDuel, DraftKings and BetMGM have already applied for online sports betting licenses.

But there are a number of others, some who don’t have as much of a market share, that also applied. Operators such as Bet365, ESPN Bet and Fanatics headline that group.

Typically, when markets launch, customers will have accounts with multiple sportsbooks in an effort to find their favorites, then stick with one or two that they really find a groove with over time.

And there’s a chance that we see one or more of these upstart sportsbooks secure a footing at the top of the North Carolina online sports betting market.

What is the outlook for ESPN Bet, Fanatics and Bet365?

Deutsche Bank recently created a survey, which took responses from 30 investors within the industry. The survey found that the investors do not think the market share leaders will change over time at a national level. In turn, they aren’t confident that upstart sportsbooks will gain an incremental share of the market.

It’s incredibly difficult for upstart sportsbooks to cement themselves as a major player in the industry today. A study by Eilers & Krejcik Gaming revealed that FanDuel alone has a 39.3% market share. DraftKings follows close behind with 34.1%. Combined, those two command more than a 70% market share nationally.

Throw in the fact that outside of those two, operators Caesars and BetMGM have seemingly endless pockets when it comes to promotion. Caesars and MGM dominated the entertainment industry, and their brand isn’t shrinking any time soon.

However, Deutsche Bank’s survey did find one upstart sportsbook that could make a name for itself in 2024.

The dark horse: Bet365

Deutsche Bank’s survey revealed that investors believe Bet365 could be the industry’s biggest disruptor in 2024. And its balance sheet is a big reason why.

Bet365 is a private company, but it’s proven to be efficient. AS CDC Gaming Reports has noted, Bet365 boasts prior success overseas, finding its groove in countries like Australia and Italy roughly a decade ago. The United Kingdom is a tough market to find a niche in, and Bet365 did just that – another reason why experts believe further U.S. success could be imminent.

In Week 18 of the NFL season, Bet365 had a download percentage of 6%. In comparison, FanDuel came in at 28%, DraftKings sat at 19%, BetMGM was at 12% and Caesars tied at 6%. Fanatics sat at 3%.

What to know about Bet365, Fanatics and ESPN Bet in North Carolina

Bet365, Fanatics and ESPN Bet – the biggest newcomers in the industry – have existing partnerships within North Carolina. As part of the licensing process, an online operator must have a partnership with one of 11 pro sports entities in order to secure market access.

Bet365 is the official partner of the Charlotte Hornets. Fanatics has partnered with the Carolina Hurricanes, while ESPN Bet has partnered with Quail Hollow Country Club.

Customers applaud Bet365’s ease of use. The interface isn’t complicated, and there are different bet options available but made simple on the app. There are plenty of customer service options, too, which help answer questions in a robust manner. The Bet365 app boasts a 4.8 out of 5 stars rating on the App Store and 4.5 out of 5 on the Google Play Store.

Much like Bet365, the Fanatics app is incredibly easy to use. It has a live chat function that allows players to be connected with a customer service agent instantly – a big plus. App Store customers gave Fanatics a 4.7 rating. Fanatics received a 3.6-star rating on the Google Play Store.

One of ESPN Bet’s big differentiators is the amount of deposit options. All major methods are accepted, such as credit/debit card, apple pay, PayPal, ACH transfer and bank wire transfer, among others. ESPN Bet has a 4.8 rating on the App Store and a 4.2 rating on the Google Play Store.

Each of these sportsbooks will have different North Carolina sports betting promos as launch approaches, so keep an eye out for those.

What does this mean for the North Carolina sports betting industry?

Based off the survey – and trends in other states – it’s almost certain that the big success of FanDuel and DraftKings will continue. BetMGM and Caesars (should it apply for an online license) will also command solid market share based off their brands alone.

But it’s not out of this world to expect Bet365 to make a major push.

Look at Ohio, for example. Online sports betting in Ohio launched one year ago, in January 2023. In each of the first four months of the industry, Bet365 ranked within the top five in market share and revenue in Ohio. Some of that has to do with advertising, as Bet365 also ranked within the top five for promotional spend. In November – the most recent month with available data – Bet365 had the fifth-highest handle in Ohio at $45.4 million, which ranked ahead of Caesars.

Bet365 has a track record of being aggressive with its promo spending, as evidenced in Ohio. But it’s not necessarily reckless, as the company knows what it’s doing based on success overseas.

Really, ESPN Bet and Fanatics could find their names cracking the state’s top four sportsbooks, too. ESPN Bet has been aggressive with its promotional spend, and Fanatics looks to do the same. How well these two books retain customers after the promo credits run dry is the next major challenge they’ll face.

When North Carolina’s online sports betting industry launches in time for the ACC Tournament on March 12, keep an eye on how the upstart operators perform. It will take a few months for trends to arise, but it’s not out of this world to expect Bet365 or any of the other upstarts to find an outlier trend in the Tar Heel State.

About the Author

Adam Hensley

Adam Hensley's byline has appeared in the Associated Press, Sports Illustrated and sites within the USA Today Network. Hensley graduated from the University of Iowa in 2019 and spent his college career working as an editor and reporter for the Daily Iowan’s sports department.