More than 47 million Americans will bet on March Madness this year via mobile apps and websites or in-person at legal sportsbooks, according to estimates from the American Gaming Association (AGA).
On Sunday, the AGA released the results of a survey conducted by Morning Consult covering a national sample of 2,200 adults. The survey found 47.4 million Americans plan to bet on March Madness, which is about the same number that indicated they would do so in 2019.
About 17.8 million Americans plan to bet on the tournament online, an increase of 206% over 2019. The survey also found about 8.3 million fans intend to bet at a retail sportsbook, a 79% increase over 2019.
Nearly 37 million Americans plan to fill out a March Madness bracket this year, a decrease of about 8% compared to 2019.
Legal Sports Betting Increases Interest in March Madness
They say distance makes the heart grow fond, but its impact was modest for March Madness despite last year’s absence due to COVID-19.
The AGA reports just a minor increase in 2021 March Madness interest, with 26% of Americans saying they are extremely or very interested in the tournament, up from 23% in 2019.
However, 42% of fans told the AGA they followed college basketball more closely this season. Of those, 70% said the increased availability of legal sports betting either somewhat or very significantly increased their interest in college basketball.
After a year marked by uncertain schedules, reduced attendance policies, and declining revenue, it is remarkable that March Madness interest not only stayed steady but actually increased a little despite the chaos. Legal sports betting may very well have played a significant role in saving the tournament from a decline in interest.
13 More States Have Legalized Sports Betting Since the Last Tournament
A lot has changed in the legal sports betting world since the last March Madness two years ago.
As the AGA noted, 65.4 million more Americans have access to legal sports betting this time around than during the 2019 tournament. Mobile sportsbooks, retail sportsbooks, or both have launched in more than a dozen additional states since then.
The last time March Madness got underway, sports betting was legal and operational in just seven states:
State: Launch Date
- Delaware: June 2018
- Mississippi: August 2018
- Nevada: 1949
- New Jersey: June 2018
- New Mexico: October 2018
- Pennsylvania: November 2018
- West Virginia: August 2018
Legal sports betting has launched in 14 more states since then:
- Arkansas: July 2019
- Colorado: May 2020
- Illinois: March 2020
- Indiana: September 2019
- Iowa: August 2019
- Michigan: March 2020
- Montana: March 2020
- New Hampshire: December 2019
- New York: July 2019
- Oregon: October 2019 (college betting prohibited)
- Rhode Island: September 2019
- Tennessee: November 2020
- Virginia: January 2021
- Washington DC: May 2020
Big Month Incoming for US Sports Betting Operators
The American Gaming Association has not released numbers estimating how much money Americans will bet on March Madness in 2021, but all indications are that this will be a massive month for legal US sportsbooks.
In 2019, the AGA conducted a similar survey and estimated Americans would wager $8.5 billion on the NCAA men’s basketball tournament through legal sportsbooks, illegal offshore sportsbooks, via casual bets with friends, and by participating in bracket contests.
Developments in the US sports betting industry since the last tournament:
- The number of states with legal sports betting has tripled
- The number of Americans planning to bet on March Madness online has tripled
- The number of Americans planning to bet on the tournament in-person at retail sportsbooks has nearly doubled
- Multiple states are regularly setting new sports betting handle records lately
Extrapolating from 2019’s estimates to today with the above developments in mind is extremely difficult. But it would be a safe bet to predict a big month is in store for US sports betting operators.