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Gaming officials estimate 150 Million Brackets and $8.5 billion wagered on NCAA Tournament

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The first NCAA Tournament in which sports betting is legal outside of Nevada will produce an estimated $8.5 billion in wagers, according to a survey released Monday by the American Gaming Association. But of the 47 million adults expected to bet on the tournament, only 4.1 million (11.5 percent) will bet at a casino sportsbook or using a legal app.

The remainder will wager by filling out a bracket, betting illegally with a bookie or betting online at one of the many unregulated offshore sites.

“These results indicate there’s still work to do to eradicate the vast illegal sports betting market in this country, and we’re committed to ensuring sound policies are in place to protect consumers, like the 47 million Americans who will bet on March Madness,” Bill Miller, AGA’s president and chief executive officer, said in a statement.

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The survey also found that 40 million people will fill out 149 million brackets, wagering $4.6 billion.

“Unlike any other sporting event in the country, March Madness attracts millions who fill out brackets, make casual bets with friends or wager at a legal sportsbook, which Americans can now do more than ever before,” Miller said.

In May 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the federal ban on sports betting as established by the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 is unconstitutional. Since then seven states — Delaware, New Jersey, Mississippi, West Virginia, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island — have joined Nevada in making sports betting available to the public. Several other states are moving toward legalization.

The handle in the new betting markets has grown rapidly. In January, the amount wagered in the new markets ($501.3 million) surpassed the amount wagered in Nevada ($497.5 million) for the first time.

John Murray, the Westgate SuperBook race and sports director, says that handle at his sportsbook went down by a “very small percentage” during the Super Bowl this year. Though he cannot attribute the entire decline to the legalization in new markets, he does say it was one of the factors. Others include bettors’ Patriots fatigue and a relatively small fanbase for the Rams.

“We usually expect to grow by six to eight percent on the Super Bowl every year,” Murray says. “So the fact that [handle] was actually down, even just a sliver, was disappointing.”

The first week of the NCAA Tournament has traditionally been the most lucrative week of the year for Las Vegas sportsbooks. But Murray says he would not be surprised if his book experienced a decline much like the Super Bowl one.

“I think sports betting is becoming more accepted than it ever was before,” he says. “You can’t even turn on any kind of a sports show these days without seeing some sort of a reference to the odds, and I never saw anything like that when I got into the business in 2007. It’s just becoming more and more accepted and more and more regulated.”

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