Americans will bet more than $10 billion on the NCAA tournament, including office pools and traditional wagers with bookmakers, according to estimates released Monday by the American Gaming Association. Only 3 percent of the action is expected to take place in a legal environment.
Last year, 24 million Americans participated in NCAA tournament pools, submitting nearly 60 million entries and spending more than $2.6 billion on entry fees, according to survey results released Monday, along with the AGA's estimates.
The survey, conducted earlier this year by The Mellman Group, found that nearly one-quarter of American adults participated in some form of a paid-entry pool, including bracket pools, survivor pools, pick 'em pools, squares or grid pools, or cash-based fantasy sports pools. The group surveyed 1,501 adults, with 63 percent of respondents saying they participated in pools to "make it more fun to watch sports and follow the teams and players that you like."
The legality of such pools is in question in the majority of states. Sixty-two percent of survey respondents were unsure of whether bracket pools were legal. A legal analysis commissioned by the AGA, a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying group representing the casino industry, found that real-money sports pools, including NCAA tournament bracket pools, are "generally illegal" in 37 of 50 states.
In December, a large NFL survivor pool run out of New York was shut down after federal agents seized documentation and money.
"Our current sports betting laws are so out of touch with reality that we're turning tens of millions of Americans into criminals for the simple act of enjoying college basketball," Geoff Freeman, president and CEO of the AGA, said in a release.
The United States Supreme Court is reviewing the federal ban on state-sponsored sports betting and is expected to release a decision in the coming weeks that could allow for expanded legal sports betting outside of Nevada. The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 restricts legal sports betting to only a handful of states, with only Nevada being allowed to take wagers on single events.
The NCAA opposes all forms of legal and illegal sports betting.
A record $429.4 million was bet on basketball -- both NBA and NCAA -- at Nevada sportsbooks last March. Nevada Gaming Control does not separate the amount wagered on professional and college basketball, so it's difficult to determine exactly how much is wagered on the NCAA tournament in the state. Last March, Nevada sportsbooks won $41.2 million off of basketball bets.
By 10 p.m. Sunday, a little over three hours after the NCAA tournament bracket was released, 1.1 million brackets had had been filled out in ESPN's Tournament Challenge. Last year, 18.9 million brackets were completed as part of the Tournament Challenge.