It is nearly impossible to determine the total amount actually wagered on the NCAA Tournament.
Not only do you have to track the legal wagering in Nevada, Delaware, Montana and Oregon. But, you can’t forget the illegal wagering online, through bookies and with friends.
On top of that, there is millions (if not billions) bet with office pools and other bracket contests.
So, I did the research based off of what I could figure out. I looked back at the Nevada Gaming Revenue Reports for the month of March. I then made some simple assumptions.
Total Money Bet in Las Vegas Sportsbooks & Profit During March Madness
The first assumption was the January and February action was evenly split between NBA & CBB.
The second is that NBA betting numbers stayed constant during March.
In order to calculate the portion of basketball volume to attribute to tournament time I used the 3-month January-March summary win amount (roughly $83 million). I compared that with the individual month of March’s win amount of around $41 million.
That left about $41 million total for January/February basketball. That gives us a rough estimate of $10 million per sport per month.
Out of the $41 million for March. We can estimate that almost $31m (75%) of sportsbook profits would have come from the boost in NCAA tournament bets.
This past year was a bit of “getting back to normal” after the NCAA Tournament was cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns in 2020. While Vegas wasn’t able to continue to grow as it had the last several years, coming back with the second-biggest year ever in terms in profit and third biggest year ever in terms of volume was good to see.
Here’s a look at the yearly numbers dating back to 2004. Keep in mind this isn’t just the games featuring the field of 68. This also includes money bet during conference tournament games and other postseason tournaments.
Vegas Numbers Since 2004 (Estimates)
|YEAR||AMT WAGERED||BOOK W/L||RETURN|
|SEGMENT||AMT WAGERED||BOOK W/L||RETURN|
The amount of legal action taken at sportsbooks during the tournament has ranged from $120-$458 million.
For comparison, there was roughly $179 million in Super Bowl bets this past year.
Keep in mind the Super Bowl is one event, while the college basketball tournament takes into account every game played for the entire month.
Most of the money is bet on the spreads of the games. There will be a small amount on money lines and totals, but fans love to throw down on their team to win the tournament. However, if you look at the seed history not many teams worse than a 3-seed have cut down the nets.
Look at How Much is Wagered on NCAA Tournament Outside of Sin City
A while back there was an FBI study done to try and figure out the gambling totals during NCAA Tournament time. Based off there results around $3 billion was illegally wagered. That is roughly 10 times the amount bet legally. This includes wagers placed online, with local bookies and in other bracket pools. All of which are considered a form a gambling.
Any way you slice it, no estimates or studies can really come close to giving us a full picture. I’d be willing to bet that the numbers in the FBI study are on the conservative side of things.
There are simply too many options for bracket pools to keep track of. Whether it’s an office pool or just some guys that wanted to throw together a contest. You also have to factor that the majority of the “bets” involve cash. Anytime cash is involved it’s hard to track the exact amount.
The American Gaming Association has came out this year and said they expect $10.4 billion to be bet on March Madness. The crazy part is they only estimate 3% ($295 million) to be wagered legally. The other 97% ($10.1 billion) is from offshore books and local bookies.
The Big Dance also has a negative impact on U.S. productivity. Based on a report by Challanger, Gray & Christmas. It comes at a huge cost to the American Industry.
If the roughly 50 million people who fill out a bracket spend one hour of work time on it. It comes out to a staggering $1.2 billion lost in productivity.