There are few events that draw the public eye as much as March Madness. The Super Bowl, obviously. Irregular events like The Olympics might also reach similar numbers. But in the world of college basketball, March Madness is the cream of the crop.
March madness has extended far beyond the boundaries of simple sports fandom. In 2018, the Supreme Court struck down a law that federally barred online sports betting. That left states free to legalize sports betting on an individual basis, an opportunity many markets have seized.
Now, more than 20 sports betting markets are live in the United States, not to mention various international jurisdictions.
Specifically within the US, how much is bet on March Madness each year? The answer is more complex than you might think.
Last year, the American Gaming Association estimated $3.1 billion would be bet on March Madness based on the organization’s research. The same study estimated 17 percent of Americans planned to place a bet. It’s hard to say how accurate that number was, as sportsbooks don’t always report betting numbers on specific events. Instead, they report overall handle (amount of money bet across all sports/events) and revenue.
Still, even if the number was smaller in reality, that’s a hefty sum going toward March Madness bets.
However, $3.1 billion looks paltry compared to the AGA’s estimate for the 2023 tournament.
This year, the numbers take a big leap from last year’s estimates. The AGA estimates a whopping 68 million Americans (nearly 25% of the population) will place a bet on the tournament to the tune of $15.5 billion in wagers. That’s five times higher than the organization’s estimates for 2022.
AGA President and CEO Bill Miller said: “March Madness is one of the best traditions in American sports—and America’s most wagered-on competition. Critically, the expansion of regulated sports betting over the past five years has brought safeguards to more than half of American adults who can now bet legally in their home market.”
Increasing the betting estimate five-fold must come with significant justification.
Notably, four new markets have launched sports betting in some fashion since last year’s March Madness tournament. Kansas, Massachusetts, and Ohio opened up retail sportsbooks and online sports betting sites. Maryland launched mobile sportsbooks as well.
That’s four new markets allowing bets. It may not account for the huge increase in expected bets, but it’s certainly a contributing factor.
Also among the contributors to this year’s expected betting success is Las Vegas. 2023 marks the first time Las Vegas will be a regional host location for tournament games. This could bring fans from across the country to Sin City and the surrounding area, where they will be able to place bets even if they’re from a market that prohibits sports betting.
More generally, though, there’s the ongoing growth of sports betting to consider. Even though many markets have been live for multiple years, the general public is still getting acquainted with sports betting. Operators are working hard to educate new and casual bettors, helping them understand the ins and out, what odds mean, and other intricacies of sports betting. As new bettors become more familiar with sportsbooks, it’s possible they are more comfortable placing bets on March Madness.
Some states also have college betting restrictions, prohibiting bets on in-state teams, even if they’re playing somewhere else. Many of those markets drop such restrictions for big events like March Madness, giving bettors a rare opportunity to bet on their alma mater or hometown school.
All of these factors likely contribute to the expected uptick in March Madness betting in 2023.
Bill Miller, AGA President and CEO, reminds us to play with care: “With the excitement around March Madness, the AGA and our members want to remind anyone getting in on the action to have a game plan to bet responsibly. That means setting a budget, knowing the odds, keeping it social, and always playing legally.”
Players must be 21 years of age or older or reach the minimum age for gambling in their respective state and located in jurisdictions where online gambling is legal. Please play responsibly. Bet with your head, not over it. If you or someone you know has a gambling problem, and wants help, call or visit: (a) the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey at 1-800-Gambler or www.800gambler.org; or (b) Gamblers Anonymous at 855-2-CALL-GA or www.gamblersanonymous.org.
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