Traditional March Madness Wagers to Soar 72% Amid Spread of Legal US Betting, Says AGA

  • AGA expects overall US March Madness bets to remain roughly the same as 2019 at 47.4 million
  • Wagers will rise 206% online and 79% at physical sportsbooks, countering an 8% drop in brackets
  • Interest in the event has also increased, with 42% of NCAA fans paying more attention this season
  • Sports betting is now legal in 25 states, prompting record-breaking Super Bowl handle this year
March Madness basketball on court
According to new research by the AGA, traditional US bets on March Madnesss, including those with online and retail sportsbooks, will increase 72% this year in comparison with 2019. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Traditional wagers up, brackets down

As one of the most popular events in the US sports betting calendar, the NCAA College Basketball Championship Tournament has served as an indicator of the average American’s betting behavior in recent years. In a statement released Sunday, the American Gaming Association (AGA) unveiled its predictions for this year’s event.

The association summarized the data in a post on its Twitter page:

Based on the results of a new survey, the AGA expects US March Madness bets to total around 47.4 million this year. That’s about the same number that wagered on the last event in 2019.

Despite the survey indicating no increase in overall betting levels, the AGA estimates that traditional sports betting will grow 72% from 2019 levels to 30.6 million. This includes online wagers, bets with brick-and-mortar sportsbooks, and casual wagering with a friend. In contrast, the AGA expects bracket betting to decrease 8% to 36.7 million.

A closer look at the survey

Global data intelligence company Morning Consult conducted its survey on behalf of the AGA between March 3 and 5. A total of 2,200 American adults took part in the research through online interviews. The survey compared betting behavior with 2019, as the pandemic caused the cancellation of last year’s event.

17.8 million will place a bet online – up 206%

Of the 47.4 million expected to wager on March Madness this year, the AGA believes 17.8 million will place a bet online – up 206% from two years ago. In addition, the data suggests that 8.3 million people will wager at a physical sportsbook – an increase of 79%. According to the AGA, this uptick will counter the 8% drop in bracket betting.

Bracket betting is a form of pool betting, usually between a group of friends or work colleagues. Typically, players pay into the contest before filling out an online or printed form with their predictions on the outcome of each game. The person with the most correct predictions wins the pool of cash.

Commenting on the results, AGA president and CEO Bill Miller described March Madness betting as “transformed” as a result of the US’s shifting legal wagering landscape. He said former bracket contest players now have access to legal traditional betting, with 13 US jurisdictions having legalized sports wagering activity since 2019.

Overall interest creeps up

In addition to a rise in traditional betting, the AGA found that interest in March Madness and college basketball as a whole has grown this year, even among the sport’s existing fan base.

42% of college basketball fans said they paid more attention this season

A total of 26% of survey participants registered themselves as extremely or very interested in March Madness, in comparison to 23% two years ago. Meanwhile, 42% of college basketball fans said they paid more attention this season. A total of 70% of those participants closely attributed this increase to the availability of sports betting offerings.

Of the survey’s respondents, the highest majority of fans said they will bet on Gonzaga University to win the tournament at 17%. Meanwhile, 11% said they will put their money on Florida State University and 8% on Baylor University.

The growth of legal betting in the US

To date, 25 states have legalized sports betting in addition to Washington DC, with 21 legal markets currently operational. A total of 17 states are in the process of legalizing the activity with active or pre-filed legislation. As a result, Miller said “millions of customers now have safer ways to enjoy all the fun and suspense only March Madness provides.”

This year’s Super Bowl has already demonstrated some effects of this new betting landscape. The AGA predicted that 23.2 million Americans would wager on the event based on a survey completed in January, with a 63% increase in online betting activity. The event proved a success for bookmakers as a result. US Super Bowl handle reached $420.1m after just ten states reported results, already dwarfing 2020’s $280m total.