March Madness bettors moving away from brackets for legal online sports betting: survey

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As March Madness comes to a close on Monday, a recent survey of 1,000 American bettors ages 18 to 64 conducted by National Research Group after last week's Elite Eight Games finds that the push for legal online sports betting combined with the coronavirus pandemic has prompted a move away from tournament brackets.

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A whopping 60% of survey respondents who bet on the 2022 NCAA tournament did not fill out a bracket. Only 8% of bettors surveyed filled out a bracket without betting on any individual games. 

Nearly half of bettors surveyed (49%) said they were less interested in filling out a bracket now than before the pandemic and 57% stated that not physically being in an office made them less likely to fill out a bracket this year. The survey notes that 54% of respondents are less interested in March Madness brackets due to legalized online sports betting, compared with 26% who disagree. 

A customer makes a sports bet at the Borgata casino in Atlantic City N.J. on March 17, 2022, just before the March Madness college basketball tournament began. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry) (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)

As of March 31, 39% of NCAA tournament bettors wagered $250 or more on games and another 24% have bet between $100 and $250. While 24% of bettors have wagered on more than 10 games during this year’s tournament, the vast majority (63%) have bet on between three and 10 games. Younger Americans (69% for ages 21-34) were more likely to bet on the tournament than older Americans (52% for ages 45-64) but less likely to wager on a bracket (36%) than their older counterparts (48%).

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According to the American Gaming Association, 45 million American adults are expected to wager a total of $3.1 billion throughout this year's tournament, down slightly from the 47.4 million adults who wagered in 2021. The AGA estimates that bettors will place 76% of their wagers outside of brackets, up from 55% in 2021.  

The March Madness logo is shown on the court during the first half of a men’s college basketball game in the first round of the NCAA tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya) (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

About 20.9 million Americans are expected to bet on the tournament outside of bracket contests through a retail sportsbook online, with a bookie or casually with friends, down 32% from 2021 but up nearly 20% from 2019. Meanwhile, 36.5 million Americans are expected to wager via a bracket contest or similar pool, about flat from 2021.

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Casey Clark, AGA senior vice president of sports betting, believes 2022 is poised to be a record year for legal sports betting, which is currently available in 30 states and Washington, D.C., with three additional legal markets awaiting launch. There are 11 states that currently have active or pre-filed legislation to legalize sports betting.

Clark told FOX Business that having more access to legal sports betting allows bettors to engage in March Madness a little differently than they're used to. 

"Now you could place a bet on a particular game or the outcome of the tournament entirely," Clark said. "And I think that the luster of going out of bracket has been diminishing and that's a trend we've seen continue over the past several years."   

Since last year’s tournament, 29 million more American adults can legally wager in their home state compared with March Madness 2021, with Arizona, Connecticut, Louisiana, Maryland, North Dakota, South Dakota, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming launching new legal sports betting markets. 

"We have to always remember that this is still a nascent market. Less than four years ago, you could only place a legal sports bet in one market in the country. So the fact that we've grown from one market to 34 in four years is remarkable," Clark added. "There's significant opportunity that exists to provide protections for consumers who want to bet on the game and do so safely and responsibly." 

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