AGA: $8.5 Billion in March Madness Bets Mostly Illegal

A new report from the American Gaming Association shows that Americans will wager $8.5 billion on the NCAA basketball tournament this year, most of it illegally. AGA President and CEO Bill Miller says it attracts the casual bettor with pools, brackets and wagers with friends.

AGA: $8.5 Billion in March Madness Bets Mostly Illegal

Study: March Madness betting could cause $13 billion in lost productivity

The American Gaming Association has released a survey that estimates $8.5 billion will be wagered by Americans on the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, also known as March Madness, and that, despite the fact multiple states outside of Nevada already have legal sports betting, most of the money bet on the NCAA tournament will be wagered illegally.

Key findings from the survey, conducted by Morning Consult, include:

  • 47 million American adults will wager $8.5 billion on March Madness;
  • $4.6 billion will be wagered on a collective 149 million brackets by more than 40 million people;
  • Nearly 18 million people will wager $3.9 billion at a sports book, online, with a bookie or with a friend;
  • 4.1 million will place a bet at a casino sports book or using a legal app;
  • 2.4 million will bet illegally with a bookie; and,
  • 5.2 million will bet online, likely at illegal offshore sites.

“During this year’s tournament—the first in post-PASPA America—sports fans are expected to bet 40 percent more than they did on this year’s Super Bowl,” said Bill Miller, AGA’s president and chief executive officer. “Unlike any other sporting event in the country, March Madness attracts millions who fill out brackets, make casual bets with friends or wager at a legal sports book, which Americans can now do more than ever before.”

Miller indicated activity such as the millions bet on pools on brackets, technically illegal, contribute to the volume of illegal bets from bookies and offshore betting sites. “These results indicate there’s still 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,” said Miller.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in May 2018, more than $5.9 billion has been wagered in the now-eight states with legal, regulated sports betting, enabling consumer protections and generating valuable tax revenue for state, local and tribal governments across the country.

By the way, according to the study, in this year’s NCAA tournament a 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).

Opinions on wagering with respect to NCAA sport are mixed at best. A separate poll released last week by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows less support for legal betting on college sports than on the pros. Six in 10 in the survey want betting on professional sports to be legal in their state, far more than the 42 percent who feel that way about college athletics.

Among those who say they’re very interested in sports, 69 percent think betting on professional sports should be legal and 52 percent say the same about college sports. Among those who are not interested in sports, 50 percent favor betting on pro sports and 38 percent support wagers on college sports.

Men are somewhat more likely than women to support gambling on professional sports, 65 percent to 56 percent. Forty-five percent of men and 40 percent of women think betting on college sports should be legal.

Support for legal sports betting appears to cross political party lines: 65 percent of Democrats and 59 percent of Republicans want legal betting on professional sports, while only 47 percent of Democrats and 41 percent of Republicans think it should be legal to bet on college sports.

“People should be able to do what they want with their money,” said Karen Warnshuis of Clovis, California, where sports betting is not legal, in an interview with the AP. “If they want to bet on sports, then they should be able to. The one thing I don’t like about sports betting is it becomes questionable whether teams or individual players might do something bad. But then, that could have been happening before legal sports betting, too.”

The poll also found most people say they currently never gamble on sports, including online (89 percent), at casinos (79 percent) or among friends (63 percent). No more than 5 percent of Americans say they frequently take part in any of those forms of sports betting, according to the poll.

The AP-NORC poll of 1,063 adults was conducted March 14-18 using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.

Meanwhile, the same week that AGA and AP released surveys on March Madness betting, a Chicago-based firm released a study showing one unanticipated result from wagering on the NCAA tournament: lost productivity.

Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a Chicago-based global outplacement and executive coaching firm, released a report last week that predicts U.S. employers will suffer a total of $13.3 billion in lost productivity due to having placed March Madness wagers.

The report found that about 75 million people are expected to spend an average of six hours watching the tournament while at work.

“It’s not just sports nuts watching the game and placing bets. It’s a lot of regular fans,” said Andrew Challenger, vice president of global outplacement for Challenger, Gray & Christmas, said in the report. “No doubt workers are spending their time after Selection Sunday researching teams for their brackets and watching games. Viewers can watch these games from anywhere, including behind a desk or out in the field.”

The report stated that employees spend an average of 26 minutes watching March Madness every day of the tournament. Challenger said business owners can expect to see employees streaming games, heading to local restaurants to watch live or discussing with co-workers, leading to hours of lost production.

“If it’s easy to gamble, you could be more distracted by it,” Challenger said. “Having a free pool that employees can enter into is something we really recommend… Companies can give away a gift card or benefit at the end. It gives employees a way to participate without having to gamble.”

Challenger suggested that employers set up a television or computer monitor for employees or offer extended breaks during game days.

“In a tight labor market, companies can use the tournament for recruiting, promoting how the office celebrates March Madness,” he said. “This could be especially effective among millennial and Gen Z workers.”

Eilers & Krejcik Gaming estimates that sports betting will be legal in 39 states by the end of 2023. The company estimates $15.2 billion in sports bets would be made on the NCAA tournament alone if sports betting was legalized across the country.