Sports Betting’s Online Transformation and Its Impact on March Madness

March 31, 2021

The NCAA’s March Madness is a three-week long, single-elimination, seven-round college basketball tournament and one of the most exciting events in all of American sports. In previous years, the NCAA tried to distance itself from sports betting, but due to online sports wagering, there seems to be no stopping sports gamblers from this year’s tournament. After the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of last year’s March Madness tournament, sportsbooks, especially those online, across the U.S. are betting (pun intended) on an unprecedented surge of activity for this year’s tournament.

The American Gaming Association (“AGA”) predicts that more than 47 million Americans will place a bet—legal or not—on March Madness this year. These numbers are roughly the same as the 2019 tournament. While many offices are still closed and employees continue to work from home, the number of Americans who filled out a bracket is 36.7 million, down 8% from 2019.

The AGA estimates that 30.6 million Americans will bet via means other than completion of a bracket (e.g., casinos, racetracks, online betting apps); this is up 17.8 million from 2019. According to Bill Miller, president and CEO of the AGA, roughly 17.8 million people will place a bet online, which is up more than 200% from 2019. Estimates are 8.3 million Americans will still go the traditional route and bet at a physical sports book, up 79% from 2019.

The dramatic increases that we have seen in online betting can not only be attributed to the 25 states that have legalized online gambling, but also to the almost nonexistent entry barriers for new as well as old bettors. While it was not that long ago that gamblers had to travel to Sin City to place their bets, bettors can now do so hassle-free with the touch of a button on a smartphone app. With an increasing number of legal avenues available to bet at your fingertips, it is only a matter of time before it becomes commonplace across the country.  

Will sports betting see its highest ever numbers for 2021 March Madness? We will have to wait until April 5 to find out.

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