Las Vegas hosting March Madness games for first time

March 12, 2023 7:00 PM

Las Vegas hosting March Madness games for first time

Photo: Shutterstock
  • Buck Wargo, CDC Gaming Reports
March 12, 2023 7:00 PM
  • Buck Wargo, CDC Gaming Reports
  • Nevada
  • Sports Betting

Las Vegas sportsbooks are gearing up for record wagering on March Madness, aided by the first-ever hosting of the West Regional final on the second weekend of the NCAA basketball tournament. The NCAA released the brackets Sunday.

American Gaming Association research shows that 68 million American adults plan to wager $15.5 billion on the tournament this year.

Some 56.3 million adults (83% of bettors) plan to participate in a bracket contest and 31 million (46%) expect to place a sports wager online, at a retail sportsbook, or with a bookie. Some 21.5 million (32%) will bet casually with friends, according to the AGA.

Since last year’s tournament, Kansas, Massachusetts, and Ohio have launched retail and mobile sports betting, while Maryland now has mobile. Some 33 states and Washington, D.C., currently offer legal sports betting, with three additional legal markets awaiting launch. More than half of American adults (57%) live in a live legal sports betting jurisdiction, the AGA said.

While 18 million more American adults plan to wager on March Madness compared to last month’s Super Bowl, Americans are expected to wager a half-billion dollars less on the tournament than on the Super Bowl, the AGA said. Three-fourths of online bettors say this will be their first time betting on March Madness online and wagering is picking up on the women’s version of the event.

Jeffrey Benson, director of operations at Circa Sports, said if conference tournaments that just finished are a barometer, he expects this week and the following week to set a record for March Madness handle in Las Vegas. The city hosted five conference tournaments in the week leading up to March Madness that brought in fans. “From what we saw (for the conference tournaments), it’s been jampacked every day.”

There’s no evidence that sports wagering in other states has impacted Las Vegas, Benson said. The city has the glitz and glamor of hotels, restaurants, day clubs, and nightclubs. “It still remains a huge tourist destination, whereas someone sitting on their couch betting March Madness is a much different feel.”

Chris Andrews, sportsbook director at South Point Las Vegas, said next Thursday through Sunday are some of the biggest sports betting days of the year.

“Taking the entire month of March, college basketball outranks the Super Bowl,” Andrews said. “We have a lot of competition around the country now, but nobody does it better than we do. All of these other markets have grown the betting market and we’ve capitalized on that.”

Jeff Sherman, vice president of risk at the SuperBook at Westgate Las Vegas, said they’re also anticipating another record with March Madness betting. “People like to come out for the energy.”

The tournament consists of 67 games over three weeks, including two Sweet 16 and one regional final in Las Vegas during a second week that traditionally features smaller crowds than the first week of the tourney when there are four games Thursday and Friday nights and two each on Saturday and Sunday.

Las Vegas wasn’t allowed to host games in the past, because of its ties to sports betting. That changed when sports wagering became commonplace in other states that host games.

“I think the regional will be different,” Andrews said. “It will bring in tons of people with disposable income to stay in our rooms, play our slot machines, and eat in our restaurants. I expect it will be fantastic.”

According to the AGA survey conducted in early March, bettors identified Kentucky (9%) as their favorite to win the tournament, followed by Texas A&M (8%) and Gonzaga, UCLA, and Alabama at 6%.

That survey is far off from what Las Vegas sportsbooks are seeing with wagering.

Benson said Houston is the favorite, with Duke and Gonzaga also popular plays, to win the tourney, along with blue bloods like Arizona, UCLA, and Kansas.

Andrews said Houston, Kansas, and Alabama are favorites and with no dominant teams, betting is wide open.

According to Sherman, there’s a lot of support for Houston. Action was brisk during the conference tournaments, with people betting a lot of favorites to cover the spread and to win outright, and Sherman expects that to continue during the tourney.

“This time of year, some money lines aren’t proportionally correlated to the pointspread that you would have seen all season,” Sherman said. “You’ll see like an eight-point favorite at minus 360 that’s now minus 420 to 450, because there’s such a concentration on the money lines.”

Sherman called this year’s tournament more wide open than ever; top teams losing in the second round wouldn’t be a surprise.

“I think you’ll see a smaller spread in the second round. The whole tournament will really competitive throughout,” he said. “There’s no team out there that you have full confidence in.”