March Madness poised to attract record wagering

March 18, 2024 4:05 PM
Photo: Shutterstock
  • Rege Behe, CDC Gaming Reports
March 18, 2024 4:05 PM
  • Rege Behe, CDC Gaming Reports

Let the Madness begin.

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The NCCA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, known as March Madness, will attract widespread interest from the betting public when they begin this week. According to the American Gaming Association’s Commercial Revenue Tracker, it’s estimated that U.S. bettors will wager an estimated $2.72 billion on this year’s tournaments.

“We now have 38 states and D.C. with legalized sports betting and the growth we’ve seen in the marketplace is indicative of Americans migrating from illegal marketplaces into the legal regulated marketplace,” says AGA Vice President, Strategic Communications & Responsibility Cait DeBaun.

Interest in wagering on the tournament is soaring, according to Optimove, a provider of data-driven research to empower B2C businesses. The company’s Optimove Insights Report on March Madness Sportsbook Trends indicates that the tournament is a catalyst for increased bettor activity, with a “significant surge observed in the overall number of bettors during tournament days,” according to a release.

The report also states that first-time depositors are more likely to engage in betting activities at the beginning of the tournament, and wagerers who engage in betting activities over multiple days during the tournament tend to place higher wagers, indicating a correlation between sustained engagement and increased betting volumes.

“To leverage these insights effectively, sportsbook operators are encouraged to adopt targeted marketing strategies and employ journey orchestration techniques,” said Optimove CEO Pini Yakuel in a statement. “With these insights, operators can tailor experiences for first-time depositors, ensuring maximum engagement and retention throughout the tournament and beyond.”

DeBaun thinks part of the predicted surge in sports betting will stem from increased interest in the women’s game. Ratings for women’s games on the Fox network have averaged 981,000 viewers; men’s games have drawn an average of 946,000.

“There’s obviously a tremendous increase in interest in women’s sports today, especially around women’s basketball, whether it’s Caitlyn Clark (of Iowa) or South Carolina’s run,” DeBaun says. “Fans are excited, and this March Madness, I think, is going to prove to be a record (in wagering).”

But with increased interest comes more scrutiny. Given that men’s basketball, specifically the Temple University team, has been flagged at least once this year for suspicious betting activity, there are concerns that athletes and coaches could be tempted by the prospect of point shaving or even throwing games.

But DeBaun notes that because there are more legal sports betting markets, such concerns are somewhat mitigated.

“We only know about potential irregularities because of legal regulated markets,” she says. “Sportsbook operators—working with regulators and outside monitors—are continuously monitoring for and acting on any potential anomalies to protect bettors, wagers and the integrity of sport. It’s not that more issues are happening, it’s that we finally have line of sight through the legalization.”

Jonathan Michaels, the founder of the gaming consulting firm Michaels Strategies, says the fact that Temple’s games were flagged by U.S. Integrity indicate that preventive measures in place are working.

Given the massive public interest and huge sums wagered on the NCAA Tournament, it is highly doubtful that there would be any unusual activity around the games,” Michaels said via email. “With AGA estimating that $2.72 billion will be wagered on this year’s tournament, twice as much as the Super Bowl, it’s likely that the average tournament game will draw betting interest that’s thousands of times greater than the average Temple game. With that much liquidity in a market, it would be nearly impossible to sneak something through and anything unusual would be flagged almost immediately.”

Because of the popularity of March Madness among bettors, the AGA is also emphasizing the importance of responsible gaming as the tournament starts. Noting that it’s Problem Gambling Awareness Month, DeBaun says it’s important that those who may have issues know there are resources available to help them.

“Betting on March Madness adds to the experience when it stays fun… that means setting a budget, keeping it social and playing legally. If it’s no longer fun, whether resources like 1-800-GAMBLER, Kindbridge or even podcasts and other forums, there’s helpful available for anyone who may need it.” DeBaun said.