Sports betting is bigger than it’s ever been in the United States right now, and it’s only growing larger. According to a recent press release from the American Gaming Association (AGA), more than 47 million Americans are expected to place at least one wager on the upcoming 2021 March Madness tournament. Furthermore, total wagers are expected to double at least compared to the 2019’s NCAA tournament.
Sportsbooks Win, Brackets Lose
Sportsbooks are expected to be the biggest winners during March Madness, given the projected doubling of total wagers. The predicted figure of 47 million bettors is similar to the last time the tournament occurred in 2019 (there was no 2020 event due to COVID-19). The difference is 13 states have legalized sports betting and become fully operational since 2019, resulting in 65.4 million more Americans having access to bet legally on games this time around.
Sports betting is now legal in 25 states plus Washington DC, with 21 of those markets operational. Another 17 states have also introduced legislation to legalize sports betting in the coming years.
Before legal sports betting in the US, both online and at brick-and-mortar sportsbooks, most Americans were restricted to online bracket contests and home pools. As a whole, bracket betting is expected to take a hit as a result of bettors favoring the ability to wager on individual outcomes all tournament long, as well as COVID restrictions limiting social gatherings.
AGA President and CEO Bill Miller confirmed the change in the March Madness betting landscape in Sunday’s press release. “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,” Miller said.
A Look at the Numbers
The AGA based its estimates on findings from a study in which 2,200 adults were surveyed nationwide between March 3-5, 2021. Morning Consult compiled the data on behalf of the AGA.
Regarding methodology, the polls were conducted online and targeted all forms of bettors, including those who bet on one or more of the following:
- Place bets online
- Bet with a bookie
- Bet in a casino sportsbook
- Bet casually with friends
- Participate in bracket contests
Data samples were weighted to approximate an overall target sample based on various factors that include region, race, age, education level, and gender.
Overall, the study found that interest in the tournament is up slightly from 2019. Based on the figure that 26% of Americans said they are either extremely or very interested in the tournament, a number up from 23% in 2019.
Sports betting may be attributable to that, too. Of the 2,200 in the survey, 42% followed the college basketball season more closely than years prior, and 70% of those fans said availability and access to legal sports betting were among the biggest reasons for that.
Gonzaga (17%), Florida State University (11%), and Baylor University (8%) were the top three most predicted to win the tournament among those polled.
Predictions from the Statistics
Here are some of the other conclusions from the AGA as a result of the survey:
- 47.4 million Americans will bet on March Madness (roughly the same as 2019)
- 36.7 million Americans will fill out a bracket (down 8% from 2019)
- 30.6 million Americans will place traditional wagers in 2021 (up 71% from 2019’s number of 17.8 million)
- 17.8 million Americans will bet online (up 206% from 2019’s number of 5.8 million)
- 8.3 million will place a bet at a retail sportsbook (up 79% from 2019’s number of 4.6 million)
As mentioned earlier, the total amount of sports wagers is expected to more than double. The number of people placing bets online and in-person is predicted to increase significantly than the expected 8% decrease in those filling out brackets.
Such findings suggest that increased access to legal sports betting in nearly half the nation’s states will account for the bulk of the money that Americans wager throughout the 2021 March Madness tournament.
About the AGA
According to the AGA’s website, its mission is to “achieve sound policies and smart regulations that promote innovation and are consistent with gaming’s modern appeal and vast economic contributions.”
The AGA is a trade group that represents the $261 billion U.S. casino industry, one that supports 1.8 million jobs across America. Its membership includes commercial and tribal casino operators, U.S.-licensed gaming suppliers, financial institutions and marketing organizations, food and beverage suppliers, and other stakeholders.