American Gaming Association Estimates $10.4 Billion Will Be Gambled on March Madness
The American Gaming Association released estimates today stating Americans would wager $10.4 billion on the NCAA’s March Madness in the coming weeks. The AGA noted that $295 million would be wagered legally at the Las Vegas Strip sportsbooks.
Those numbers are meant to underscore the folly of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, which bans sports betting in 46 states. Of the remaining 4 states which allow any form of sports gambling, only Nevada has fully legal sportsbooks.
3% of March Madness Betting Done Legally
The AGA points out that only 3% of all betting on March Madness is going to be done legally. In AGA President Geoff Freeman’s opinion, the United States federal government should look to repeal the PASPA and allow states to decide whether sports betting is legal inside their borders.
Most of the gambling on the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, commonly known as March Madness, is done through office pools. Each person in the office fills out a bracket and wagers a set amount of money — something in the range of $20 to $25 — and the person with the most accurate bracket wins the prize pool.
40 Million Americans Fill-Out Brackets
Bracketology is a cottage industry for one month of the year. It is estimated 40 million Americans fill out March Madness brackets every year. If one assumes those people get involved in one office pool and bet $25 apiece, that would account for only $1 billion in wagers. Many Americans also get involved in betting pools with their friends and family members, though, so many fill out multiple brackets.
Some gamblers play for much higher stakes. While it is rare, it is known that some executives play in brackets with $10,000 entry fees. This gambling is technically illegal, though the authorities tend to look the other way. Unless the organizer is making a profit off the game, authorities tend to view office betting pools as a harmless form of side betting.
Washington Sports Betting Laws
Some US states take office pools more seriously than others. The Washington State Gaming Commission was asked recently about their stance on March Madness brackets and replied, “We understand the excitement that builds during this time of year as people fill out their brackets, and we’re frequently asked questions about betting in an office pool. The Washington State Constitution prohibits any form of gambling unless it is specifically authorised by the legislature – sports betting is not authorised.”
The Washington gaming regulators consider “100 square” competitions which predict the final score of games as legal. In such gaming, players can pay $1 for one of 100 squares on a grid full of numbers. If the final score of the game matches up with a gambler’s two numbers on their square, then they win the pot. Washington State does not consider “100 square” contests with bets higher than $1 as legal, though.
Why Gamblers Love March Madness Brackets
Such games are not nearly as popular as a March Madness bracket, though. For one, the bets are not high enough for many people’s tastes. Just as important is the pure luck involved. Winning an NCAA bracket bet involves a lot of luck, too, but many people enjoy the strategy and skill elements of Bracketology. They see NCAA Men’s Basketball teams play all year and believe they have insight into which ones will advance.
Because they are invested personally in the outcome of the bracket, it makes viewing March Madness games a more personal experience. If their teams win a game, the gamblers is vindicated and feels like they won the game, in their own way. They can brag to their friends and coworkers, or complain if they did not do so well.
Bookies and Illegal Online Sportsbooks
The AGA’s $10 billion estimate takes into account other forms of gambling, though. Americans gamble at illegal offshore online sportsbooks and sports betting exchanges, too. Average people set up accounts using their desktop computer or mobile smartphone, using credit cards, web wallets, or bitcoin to make deposits. Withdrawing money is a little harder and not all operators are trustworthy, but American real money gamblers exist in the droves.
Illegal bookmakers known as bookies still exist. These people live in most American communities and take cash wagers. Increasingly, bookies launder money by placing their client’s bets in the aforementioned online sports betting sites. Some bookies that have been busted in the past 10 years had a turnover of upwards of a $100 million dollars. Most top out at $2 million to $3 million, but illegal bookmakers remain a key part of the American Gaming Association’s numbers.
Once again, online sportsbooks and bookies are illegal in the American gambling industry. Almost all forms of sports gambling outside of the Las Vegas sportsbooks are. That is Geoff Freeman’s point: all this gambling takes place and only Las Vegas casinos and illegal bookmakers profit from it.
The Argument for Sports Betting Legalization
In the American Gaming Association’s opinion, the sports betting laws are not only ineffective, but they represent the loss of billions of dollars of potential tax revenues for states. As Geoff Freeman recently told USA Today, “The federal ban on sports betting is an utter failure.”
If sports gambling was legalized, regulated, and taxed, then US states could collect huge revenues on the gaming involved. Because legitimate operators would want to be licensed, lawmakers could demand they follow policies that would protect problem gamblers and raise awareness about compulsive gambling. Hotlines and helpline could be set up and advertised on online sportsbooks, while self-exclusion lists could be mandated to give players a chance to beat compulsive behavior before it begins.
To the AGA’s Geoff Freeman, such a system would be positive for the state’s regulating gaming and the gamblers themselves. Freeman’s point is the ban on sports betting is not working — it’s never worked — and so this vast billion-dollar industry exists in the shadows, as an underground economy.