Legal sports betting has never been more available in the U.S. than it is this year, and the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament never more heavily bet.
Leading into this weekend’s Final Four, 31% of Americans (ages 21-64) have bet on this year’s tournament, and among them, 65% said they have bet more this year than on any previous tournament, according to a study by the National Research Group conducted after the Elite Eight round wrapped Sunday.
What bet sizes does that equate to? Thirty-nine percent of the bettors reported that they wagered a total of $250 or more, while 63% said $100 and up.
All these dollars flowing through sportsbooks has translated to fewer completed brackets, at least among sports bettors. The survey found that a whopping 60% of people who bet on this year’s NCAA Tournament did not fill out a bracket. Further, 54% of bettors say that legalized mobile app sports betting has made them less interested in brackets, compared to 26% that disagree with that sentiment.
Each year — except for 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic caused the cancellation of the tournament — the tourney stands alongside the Super Bowl as the most popular sports betting events in the U.S.
While the percentage of bettors plunking down a wager has dipped a bit each round this year, the betting volume for the two Final Four contests and Monday’s National Championship game ought to be huge. North Carolina and Duke will meet in the tournament for the first time ever in what could also be legendary coach Mike Krzyzewski’s final game, if the 4.5-point favorite Blue Devils fall to the underdog Tar Heels. And two more “blue bloods” — Kansas and Villanova — will fight for the right to battle on Monday for the title.
Here is a roundup of the most interesting findings from the March Madness betting survey:
Arrow is up: NCAA Tournament betting trends
Total dollars wagered: how the numbers fall
Keep in mind that these are cumulative dollars, which may represent bets on multiple games (more on that in next section):
- More than $1,000 — 6%
- Between $500-$999 — 16%
- Between $250-$499 — 17%
- Between $100-$249 — 24%
- Between $50-$99 — 15%
- Between $20-$49 — 13%
- Between $5-$19 — 7%
- Under $5 — 2%
How many games and how many rounds
- While 24% of bettors have wagered on more than 10 games during this year’s tournament, the vast majority (63%) have bet on between three and 10 games.
- 54% of NCAA Tournament bettors placed a wager on the First Round (Round of 64), the most of any round to date.
- Those percentages have declined each round, with 46% betting on the Second Round, 44% on the Sweet Sixteen, and 30% on the Elite Eight.
This decline may be explained in part due to busted bankrolls (hey, they’re just like brackets!), as well as there being simply fewer games on the slate, and thus fewer games that inspired people to bet.
Betting on blue bloods
While sports betting is legal in North Carolina only at tribal-run sportsbooks in remote parts of the state, Duke and North Carolina are longstanding nationally known programs featured regularly on national television. And the Final Four clash comes on the heels of North Carolina’s upset victory on March 5 in Coach K’s final game at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
The rematch between the heated rivals is likely to attract a massive amount of betting interest.
Bracket impact: Out of office, out of mind?
This one was surprising: A majority of the bettors did not fill out a bracket. And based on the responses, causes include both the availability of legal sportsbooks and a pandemic-influenced shift to more remote working environments.
- 60% of people who bet on this year’s NCAA Tournament did not fill out a bracket.
- Conversely, just 8% of bettors filled out a bracket without betting on any individual games.
- 54% of bettors say that legalized online sports betting has made them less interested in brackets, compared to 26% that disagree.
What are they betting?
The most popular bet types to date:
- Moneyline (39%)
- Live game bets (30%)
- Spread bets (28%)
- Parlays (27%)
- Over/under bets (27%)
- Futures (25%)
- Same-game parlays (25%)
This data comes from an online study conducted by National Research Group (NRG) on March 28-29 among 1,000 Americans ages 18 to 64. Sports bettors are defined as anyone 21 or older who bets frequently or occasionally on sports.