Sports Betting Hasn’t Hurt March Madness Office Pools, COVID May Have

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The March Madness bracket remains very much alive in the era of the legal bet.

Almost five years and soon four NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournaments will have passed since the Supreme Court’s repeal of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act made legal sports betting a possibility and a state-by-state decision. Thirty-six American jurisdictions are in some phase of implementation. Massachusetts last week became the 24th to launch the mobile and online version that encompasses as much as 90% of bets in many of those locales.

With 146 million Americans free to bet legally on sports right now, and March Madness established as the second-largest betting market of the year, trailing only the Super Bowl, certainly the office pool and the online bracket contest must be bowing out like a 16 seed.

No. Their shining moment continues.

A survey commissioned and released by the American Gaming Association this week predicts that 56.3 million Americans will participate in a March Madness bracket contest. That’s up 54% from the estimate for the 2022 tournament. Granted, the AGA predicts 68 million Americans will bet $15.5 billion on the tournament through legal, illegal, and offshore means.

But the old grid is hanging in there. Data from outlets like ESPN back up the prediction. According to the company, a record of more than 20 million brackets was completed before the start of the tournament.

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Predicted American Participation in NCAA Tournament Bracket Competitions in 2023

According to data compiled and released by the AGA before each tournament, this many Americans planned to participate in bracket contests:

  • 2023: 56.3 million
  • 2022: 36.5 million
  • 2021: 36.7 million
  • 2020: No data released, NCAA Tournament canceled after COVID-19 outbreak
  • 2019: 40 million

Why March Madness Pools Stay Popular Amid Betting Boom

How is this happening? Sports betting is a quicker gratification. Bets can bust just like brackets, but new ones offer hope of reward and maintain interest.

If the AGA projections are accurate, the mainstreaming of sports betting, and life and fandom in a post-COVID-19 world, would be partly responsible, AGA vice president of research David Forman told Gaming Today. The theory proved true, he said, with the resurgence in popularity of social betting and Super Bowl squares games.

“It’s been complicated,” he said of bracket contest participation.” What we saw from 2020 to 2022 around both March Madness and around the Super Bowl — kind of casual betting and squares contests — was that it had been kind of declining.

“There were two schools of thought and two theories as to why that was. Is it because the spread of legal sports betting is drawing people away from those activities or is it just temporarily down because people aren’t hanging out at bars and restaurants or hanging out with their friends or in the office to do office pools or to do squares contests?”

“I think now we’ve seen this year with both the Super Bowl and with the March Madness number is that it was a COVID thing.”

Forman added that the spread of legal sports betting might actually be “complementary to these other kinds of more social activities that people do.”

“People who were going to do brackets were going to do them anyway,” he said. “Now they have the ability to bet legally, and for people maybe who were going to bet legally, but not do a bracket, they’re like, ‘Well, this is just another fun way that I can enjoy this tournament.'”

Several states restrict betting on college teams, either completely (Oregon) or in limiting wagering on in-state teams (New York) or in-state teams and games played within state lines (New Jersey). Massachusetts allows betting on in-state colleges only in select, approved tournaments.

Also read: Pursuing the Perfect March Madness Bracket | How sharp bettors are moving NCAA Tournament lines

ESPN Bracket Figures Show Interest Remains High

While it’s impossible to dip into what comprises the post-COVID American communal workplace to gauge office pool participation, Gaming Today was able to take a sampling of major online outlets. Participation figures at ESPN were buoyant. Last year, at the peak period of entries just before the start of the first game in the Round of 64, more than 30,000 brackets were registered per minute.

Participation in ESPN Tournament Challenge:

According to figures provided by ESPN

  • 2019: 17.2 million completed brackets for the men’s ESPN Tournament Challenge game.
  • 2020: No tournament
  • 2022: 17.3 million completed brackets. ESPN users also set single-day records for signups in the two days before the game closed.
  • 2023: 20+ million completed brackets. Fans were registering 26,000 brackets per minute in the hours before Thursday’s tip-off.

Seton Hall study backs power of the bracket, tracks betting’s impact

A study released by the Seton Hall Sports Poll this week claimed that 48% of the “general population” would fill out a bracket for the men’s or women’s tournaments.

The same study claims that 35% of those watching the tournaments will place a sports bet.

Data from Seton Hall report:

  • 35% of the general population watching the tournament will place a sports bet.
  • 37% of that group self-described as sports fans.
  • 29% of that group describe themselves as casual fans
  • 17% call themsleves “non-fans.”
  • 55% will not bet
  • 10% don’t know

This poll was conducted March 8-10 and included responses from 1,553 U.S. adults with a margin of error of +/-2.5%, according to SHSP. SHSP adds: the sample mirrors the U.S. Census percentages on age, gender, income, education, ethnicity, and region.

Do you still play office pools or online bracket contests when you’re betting on March Madness?
byu/Veritable00 insportsbetting

Play: bet365 March Madness Bracket Challenge dangles $10 million prize | 5 Alternatives to March Madness Bracket Pools 

About the Author
Brant James

Brant James

Senior Writer
Brant James is a senior writer at Gaming Today. He has covered the sports betting industry in the United States since before professional sports teams even knew what an official gaming partnership entailed.

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