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March Madness brings sports wagering action to new levels

The coveted NCAA Tournament bracket, which college basketball fans everywhere fill out.
DeShawn Johnson
The coveted NCAA Tournament bracket, which college basketball fans everywhere fill out.

Everybody likes to think they know who will win the NCAA basketball tournaments, but does their hunch pay off?

The NCAA’s men’s March Madness tournament is right around the corner, and with 67 different games in three weeks comes billions of dollars in parlays and brackets as the tournament is one of the largest betting events of the year.

Last year, the American Gaming Association released survey results that estimated over 68 million Americans were to wager over $15.5 billion during the 2023 March Madness tournament.

The surge of legal online sports betting has been the main contributor to such large numbers, but another big contributor to the large gambling numbers during March Madness is tournament brackets.

According to the AGA, 52.5 million of the estimated 68 million gamblers would be betting on the tournament via casual sports gambling whether it be online or at an in-person sportsbook. At the same time, the AGA also reported that 56.3 million of the 68 million would also be betting via tournament brackets.

While tournament brackets and online sports betting continue to grow, major sportsbooks like BetMGM expect more gamblers to try their luck during the tournament.

“Major sporting events, like the Super Bowl and March Madness, draw more attention from sports fans and lead to increased interest from bettors,” said John Ewing, PR manager for BetMGM.

As regular sports gamblers are preparing for the big event through experience, various betters will be placing their first-ever bets on March Madness events. The AGA reported that in 2023 three fourths of online bettors climbed it would be their first time betting on March Madness.

Sports bettor

Jalen Jennings, 23, from Inkster, has been gambling to make extra money, said his interest during March Madness increases, however, his bets aren’t necessarily increasing. While the abundance of games allows for various money-making opportunities the risk factor is too much for Jennings.

“As a sports better I’m excited for the opportunities around this time of year, but I try to avoid getting too deep into it (March Madness) since I’m not too into the odds and the possible upsets that can happen,” Jennings said.

Jennings uses “extreme caution” when betting during March Madness because of the various upsets throughout March Madness history and he is not willing to risk losing too much money throughout the three-week tournament.

“I usually do six legs in one parlay, but for March Madness I take it about one to three legs at a time…I play one game at a time because the risk is extremely high when it comes to almost every game,” Jennings said.

DeShawn Johnson

Another way Jennings gambles without breaking the bank during the tournament is by setting limits for himself both mentally when he sets a mental marker not to spend a certain amount, and also physical limits just in case he feels the urge to spend more. Online sportsbooks have an option for gamblers to set deposit limits as a way to promote responsible gambling and protect users.

Bracket Maker 

While online sports betting has taken over the load in the amount of money that is wagered over the tournament an older style of gambling still largely contributes.

Bracket contests are the challenge of trying to predict the winning teams of the tournament and the final winner, all before the tournament starts. Bracket contests are usually done at low stakes, some even requiring just a dollar to enter, so that friends, family, and co-workers can also find a fun way to gamble during the tournament.

Instead of betting against the house like in casual sports gambling, individuals wager against each other in brackets. With this style of play, an individual can choose the group they decide to play with based on their sports knowledge.

For new bettors during March Madness, brackets can be a way to ease into learning how the tournament works and a way to gauge their college basketball knowledge. The AGA reports that three-fourths of online bettors will be betting on March Madness for the first time.

Jackson McIntyre, a junior at MSU, recently turned 21 and has not yet had the chance to gamble on March Madness. However, he had been taking part in family bracket challenges for years.

“So in the past, I used brackets as a way of betting before I turned 21… my dad would always have a few brackets that he spent like forty bucks on and he would always give me a couple and then it was like my own way of betting,” McIntyre said.

Now that McIntyre is of age to legally gamble he plans on creating some parlays but he will still be competing in bracket challenges, this time with his own money. As a new bettor, McIntyre has tried to pick up betting strategies and tips to “beat the system” and one that he has in mind for the upcoming tournament is to keep his brackets and bets separate from each other.

“I’m going to try to keep my bracket and my betting separate… I know Vegas and the sports betting apps made a lot of money on the tournament last year so I won’t always bet with my gut there like I do for brackets.

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