LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 15: Jake Sindberg of Wisconsin makes bets during a viewing party for the NCAA Men's College Basketball Tournament inside the 25,000-square-foot Race & Sports SuperBook at the Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino which features 4,488-square-feet of HD video screens on March 15, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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March Madness expected to drive betting handle up

Legalized sports betting in more states across the country is expected to increase with the start of the NCAA Tournament. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

While Super Bowl LIII produced disappointing numbers for money wagered with $194 million in total bets compared to the 320 million projected total, experts are predicting America’s obsession with March Madness will drive numbers up with legalized sports betting.

As more states push to get sports betting, events such as March Madness show the magnitude of the money that could be made through legalized gambling.

“During this year’s tournament — the first in post-Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act America — sports fans are expected to bet 40 percent more than they did on this year’s Super Bowl,” said American Gaming Association CEO Bill Miller in a statement. 

The American Gaming Association released a study predicting:

  • 47 million American adults will wager a collective $8.5 billion on March Madness
  • $4.6 billion will be wagered, collectively, on 149 million brackets by upward of 40 million people
  • Roughly 18 million people will wager $3.9 billion at a sportsbook, online, with a bookie, or with a friend
    • 4.1 million at casino sportsbooks or via legal apps
    • 2.4 million illegally with a bookie; and
    • 5.2 million online, potentially on illegal offshore sites.
    • With the remaining 6.3 million chalked up to miscellaneous

The survey focused on a national poll of 11,002 adults during the first week of March and there is a clear favorite to bettors from all over.

The plurality of bettors favors Duke (29 percent) to win, followed by Gonzaga (9 percent), North Carolina (8 percent), Kentucky (7 percent), Virginia (5 percent) and Michigan (5 percent).

With seven states joining Nevada in allowing sports gambling, the amount of money projected to be made is down, in comparison to the $10 billion projection for last year’s March Madness tournament. Illegal betting drove a lot of the betting handles of past tournaments.

The survey projected 7.6 million people will still bet illegally whether with a bookie or through online offshore sites while 4.1 million will be placing legal bets.

The AGA estimated that of the $10 billion bet in last year’s tournament only about three percent or $300 million was going to be bet legally in Nevada.

“These results indicate there’s work to do to eradicate the vast illegal sports betting market in this country, and we’re committed to ensuring sound policies are in place to protect consumers, like the 47 million Americans who will bet on March Madness,” Miller said.

Nevada ultimately surpassed its projections of March sports betting last year, racking up roughly $437 million for March Madness alone.

Trej Bell is a junior sports journalism major at Arizona State University

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