March 17, 2017
By Daniel Roberts
If you had a hard time choosing a champion when you filled out your March Madness bracket this year, don’t worry—the oddsmakers in Las Vegas weren’t sure either.
At the time this year’s tournament tipped off, Vegas sportsbooks still had no clear consensus ‘favorite’ to win it all, ESPN reported. MGM Grand had Kansas, William Hill had North Carolina, and Westgate and the Wynn had Duke (a 2-seed). Caesars Palace had Kansas, UNC, and Duke as co-favorites.
That parity is unusual, and it’s helping create a betting frenzy. The American Gaming Association (AGA) predicts that Americans will wager $10.4 billion on March Madness games this year. That would be more than $1 billion more than last year’s $9.2 billion total, and a 13% spike. And 96% of these bets are placed illegally.
The total money that fans will bet legally, at Nevada sportsbooks, will come in at around a far-less-eye-popping $300 million.
If you’re betting on any games, your bet (along with your office pool, technically) is illegal thanks to PASPA (the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992), the federal statute that essentially banned sports betting everywhere in America but Nevada.
The AGA, which lobbies on behalf of casinos and gaming companies, has been leading the PR effort to repeal PASPA, and AGA president Geoff Freeman says there is a “perfect storm coming together” in America right now in favor of legalizing sports betting.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver has expressed his overt support for federal regulation of sports betting, and MLB commissioner Rob Manfred last month told Yahoo Finance, “We are re-examining our stance on gambling.” (On the other hand, one of Corporate America’s greatest March Madness fans, Warren Buffett, is not in favor.)
In keeping with the high volume of bets this year, Las Vegas is also seeing a tourist benefit. Hotels like Caesars Palace, MGM, the Rio, and Harrah’s are all at 99% or 100% occupancy during the opening round of the tournament, according to Vegas Inc.