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Penn Entertainment has hired Disney’s current chief technology officer, Aaron LaBerge, who will assume the same role at the gambling company from 1 July.

LaBerge spent more than 20 years at The Walt Disney Company, in two stints separated by five and a half years as a technology entrepreneur.

In a note to Disney staff, LaBerge said he had made a personal decision to leave the company to spend more time with his family.

Most recently, he served as president and CTO for Disney Entertainment and ESPN, where he was responsible for driving all technology and product development in support of Disney’s two media divisions.

In that role, he helped set the vision and strategic leadership for how Disney uses technology to drive its business and create consumer experiences with entertainment and sports content.

“We are thrilled to have someone of Aaron’s caliber join our Penn executive team,” said Penn CEO Jay Snowden.

“Having overseen a global organisation of thousands of engineers, product developers, designers, technologists, and data scientists that created some of the largest scale and most successful media properties in the world, there is no better candidate to lead our Technology and Interactive division into its future.“

Focus on ESPN Bet

“I’m excited to join another talented team at Penn Interactive and lead our technology strategy,” said LaBerge.

“I plan to use my experience from Disney and ESPN to help make ESPN Bet an essential piece of the sports fan experience. Together, we’ll push the limits and redefine how fans interact with sports and gaming.”

Prior to his most recent role at Disney, LaBerge was executive vice president and CTO at ESPN from 2015 to 2018.

At ESPN he played an instrumental role in the growth of the brand’s consumer-facing digital media products and services.

Between 2007 and 2012, LaBerge was co-founder and CEO of Fanzter Inc., a venture-funded consumer software and digital product development company.

Analyst opinion

Analysts at JMP Securities viewed LaBerge’s appointment positively.

They noted that the recent departure of theScore founders, the Levy family, had created a gap in leadership and expertise at Penn, particularly concerning the burgeoning online gaming sector in the US.

While the timing of the Levy family’s departure before the Super Bowl wasn’t surprising, the lack of suitable executives with US-based online gaming and media experience posed a challenge given the sector’s relative newness in the US and the unique dynamics of the industry compared to its global counterparts, the analysts said.

LaBerge’s appointment has been seen to address these concerns, especially given his extensive background in media and recent exposure to US online gaming through partnerships with ESPN and Penn.

“Overall, the hire and subsequent team buildout should remove the overhang of uncertainty around the leadership of the division,” JMP added.

The analysts emphasised that the integration between ESPN and Penn will be crucial during the summer months and into the NFL season in autumn, particularly with the upcoming launch of operations in New York.

“We believe investors are looking to this period (the start of the NFL) as the catalyst to determine if the venture will work between the two companies and if Penn can start to rebuild its market share into 2025,” they concluded.

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