March Madness is Here! AGA Expects Big Jump in Online Betting as Legal Wagering Grows

Posted on: March 14, 2021, 09:58h. 

Last updated on: March 15, 2021, 12:42h.

March Madness is officially underway. On Sunday, the NCAA revealed the 68-team field for its men’s college basketball tournament, and recent polling from the American Gaming Association (AGA) indicates the betting traffic will likely be similar to the 2019 tournament. But the survey indicates people may bet differently this year.

March Madness
The NCAA finished installation on a giant tournament bracket on the exterior of the JW Marriott hotel in Indianapolis, site of this year’s event. The American Gaming Association forecasts more than 47 million US adults to bet in some fashion on the sporting event. (Image: VisitIndy/Twitter)

Based on a survey conducted by Morning Consult, the AGA forecasts 47.4 million Americans to bet in some fashion on the tournament. That’s roughly the same number the association forecast two years ago when the NCAA last held the tournament. The COVID-19 pandemic wiped out last year’s event.

The association projects – again based on the survey – that 36.7 million Americans will fill out a bracket. While that’s still the most popular way to bet on the tournament, that number is down 8 percent from two years ago, the AGA said.

As far as what the association calls “more traditional bets,” such as legal or illegal wagers with a sportsbook, bookie, or friend, the AGA expects 30.6 million people to place that kind of action. That’s up 72 percent from 2019.

Online action is expected to jump substantially higher. The survey forecasts 17.6 million adults will bet online, up 206 percent from 2019.

Bets placed at brick-and-mortar sportsbooks are expected to increase by 79 percent to 8.3 million this year.

Legal Sports Betting Changes March Madness Landscape

The increases in legal retail and online sports bets coincide with the expansion of legalized sports betting in the last two years. There are 13 jurisdictions that have approved wagering since the last tournament. AGA President and CEO Bill Miller said in a statement that that has transformed how people will bet on the NCAA Tournament.

Currently, 20 states and the District of Columbia allow people to wager on sporting events.

As consumers formerly limited to bracket contests now enjoy access to legal sportsbook options, they also plan to place traditional sports bets as March Madness returns,” he said.

The survey also found that 42 percent of sports fans have said they followed the college basketball season more closely this season, and 70 percent of those people credit the expansion of legal sports betting for that increased interest.

However, that has not necessarily carried over to interest in the tournament. Only 26 percent said they were extremely or very interested in the tournament, up from 23 percent in 2019.

The online survey took place between March 3-5 using a sample of 2,200 adults. Morning Consulted weighted the data from respondents to estimate target sample of adults based on several demographic points, including: age, education, gender, race, and religion. The margin of error for the full survey was 2 percent.

NCAA odds
Odds are based on a $100 bet, meaning a $100 wager on Gonzaga at +200 would return $300.

Fans, Oddsmakers Gaga for Gonzaga

Morning Consult also asked respondents who they believe will win the NCAA Tournament. At 17 percent, Gonzaga was the top pick. Florida State was the second choice at 11 percent, with Baylor at 8 percent.

Gonzaga, which has a chance to finish as the first undefeated NCAA champion in 45 years, earned the top seed in Sunday’s draw. Baylor also earned a No. 1 seed, along with Illinois and Michigan.

Florida State drew the fourth seed in Michigan’s bracket. Check the above table for the odds as of Sunday night.

The entire tournament will be held in Indiana this year because of concerns regarding COVID-19.