It’s well-established that sports betting brings new fans into sporting events. That goes for March Madness, too, according to the American Gaming Association. In fact, during Monday morning’s March Madness conference call, AGA president and CEO Bill Miller said at least twice that not only are people more engaged when they have something riding on the game, but that sports betting draws a “younger, wealthier” bettor to the table.
“Sports betting is wildly popular, and engages people who might not have bet before,” Miller said. These consumers are “younger and wealthier than the average sports fan. Most Americans say they’d be more interested in betting on a Final Four game if they had bet on a team.”
The AGA on Monday released a Morning Consult survey showing that 47 million adult Americans will wager $8.5 billion on March Madness, including $4.6 billion that will be wagered on 149 million brackets, from office pools to online bracket competitions. Of the 47 million that the survey projects will wager, 18 million are planning to place bets at a casino sportsbook or on a legal betting app, but more concerning to the AGA is the 7.6 million who will bet with an illegal bookie or through unregulated off-shore sportsbooks.
Illegal, offshore betting still thriving
“Americans like to bet on sports and Americans do bet on sports,” Miller said. “The AGA has long focused efforts on eradicating illegal markets …. with the the proliferation of legal sports wagering across the country, we are making progress toward this goal, but we still have a long way to go.”
Since the Supreme Court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act last May, eight states or jurisdictions outside of Nevada have legalized or launched sports betting. And when March Madness tips off with the First Four in Dayton Tuesday night, residents of seven states, including Nevada, will be able to place a legal sports bet. Arkansas and the District of Columbia have legalized, but their residents are still months from placing a legal wager.
We waited all year for the bracket.
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 18, 2019
While the AGA expects the number of people to place sports bets on March Madness to increase, CBS may have already started to see the effects of the proliferation of legalized sports betting. The company said its Selection Sunday show — which was satisfyingly short and to the point for a change — got its highest ratings in five years. The show had a 4.0 overnight household rating, its highest since a 4.2 in 2014.
“We know that (sports betting) enhances the fan experience, so it stands to reason that there is a causal relationship there,” Miller said.
Kansas, Kentucky, Utah residents most basketball crazy
Among the other tidbits shared during the media conference call:
- 1 in 5 adult Americans will place a bet on the NCAA tournament;
- In basketball crazy Kansas and Kentucky, 1 in 4 adult Americans will play in a basketball pool;
- Utah, where it’s unlikely sports betting will ever be legal, will have the third highest number of people participating in a basketball pool;
- Among the states with the lowest interest in the tournament — percentage-wise — are California, Georgia and Mississippi, which was the third state to launch sports betting last summer;
- Fans are expected to bet 40 percent more over the course of the tournament than they did on the Super Bowl.
All those numbers point to a boon for the NCAA, which has, in general, been outwardly opposed to legal sports betting, for various reasons. The association claims that its unpaid athletes may be more susceptible to bribes than paid professional athletes, and it’s struggling with how to level the betting playing field by releasing standardized injury reports. No matter the obstacles, it is already legal to bet on college sports in many of the regulated markets, and certainly offshore.
“This just highlights the hypocrisy of the NCAA,” AGA Senior Vice President of Public Affairs Sara Slane said. “Let’s put our heads in the sand and pretend it doesn’t happen while we are benefitting.”