'March Madness' Tournament Sports Betting Is Big Business

Rising Interest in Women's Basketball Has Added to the Growth in Wagering
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Action from a second-round game of the 2024 NCAA men's basketball tournament between the University of Texas and the University of Tennessee. Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • Legal betting on this year's "March Madness" NCAA basketball tournaments is projected to reach $2.7 billion, according to the American Gaming Association.
  • The availability of online gambling and expanding legalization of sports betting across states has helped to increase the number and size of wagers for this annual sporting event.
  • Increasing interest in women's college basketball also has driven growth, with bets on it expanding dramatically year-over-year.
  • Sports betting companies also stand to benefit from the frenzy surrounding the NCAA tournaments.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association's (NCAA) 2024 Division 1 college basketball tournaments, known as "March Madness," kicked off this week, sending fans and sports betting outlets into a frenzy. The event also may benefit the stocks of some companies in the sports betting industry.

Bettors are expected to legally wager as much as $2.72 billion on "March Madness" this year, according to the American Gaming Association (AGA). That figure appears to exclude bets with friends and family and office brackets, which were counted as part of the AGA's previous surveys on March Madness betting.

"It wasn't that long ago where, if you wanted to place a bet, you either had to go to the casino sportsbook in Nevada or you had to participate in the more casual betting among friends," AGA Vice President of Research Dave Forman told CBS News in an interview. "[Online betting] has driven a lot of new people into that legal market."

The number of bettors across sports has steadily increased in recent years as regulatory legislation in 38 states and the District of Columbia has relaxed.

Totals Similar to Super Bowl Betting

In 2023, 75% of fans bet for the first time on March Madness, one market research firm reported.

Last year, the AGA forecast 68 million Americans would wager as much as $15.5 billion on the tournament, which encompasses more than 100 games played by men's and women's teams in a three-week span. Of that number, 31 million planned to place a sports bet via online wagers, traditional sports books, or a bookie, while 21.5 million planned to "bet casually with friends."

For comparison, last year's NFL Super Bowl—the one game in U.S. sports with the heaviest bets—enticed 50 million adults to bet $16 billion. This year, with the Super Bowl fittingly played in Las Vegas, that figure jumped to 68 million bettors wagering $23.1 billion, according to sports network ESPN.

Bets Placed on Women's Games Nearly Tripled

Part of the impetus for more bets on March Madness is rising interest in women's college basketball.

The success of talented players such as Caitlin Clark of the University of Iowa and Angel Reese of Louisiana State University has sparked a near tripling in the number of bets placed on women's college basketball this season compared with last year, according to Caesars Sportsbook.

As the NCAA basketball tournaments were about to begin, stock analysts at Jefferies in a March 13 research note said gaming "investor interest remains focused on the burgeoning U.S. market, where the state legalization," along with promotions and the path to profitability are still debated.

Bank of America Securities analysts in a mid-February research note highlighted DraftKings Inc. (DKNG); BetMGM, owned by MGM Resorts International (MGM); and PENN Entertainment Inc. (PENN), which runs ESPNBet, as gaming companies to watch.

UPDATE—March 24, 2024: This article has been updated with a photo from a second-round game.

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  9. Jefferies. "UK | Investment Companies - Jefferies Academy - Stream #2 Key Takeaway."
  10. BofA Securities. "Digital Gaming Update: ESPN Bet in NY; BetMGM in-line; DKNG PO to $50."
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