Assessing the Impact of March Madness on Sports Betting

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The widespread appeal of March Madness shows no sign of slowing down. As sports betting continues to expand in the United States, the OnlineGamblers.com team asked leading industry figures Alex Dubin, CEO and founder of BettorOff, and Callum Broxton, Head of US Operations at Checkd Group, for their thoughts on the recent annual college basketball spectacular.

OG: How popular was this year’s March Madness from a betting perspective?

Alex Dubin: March Madness has been the premier sports betting event in the United States for decades, and the 2023 edition was no exception. For context, over 68 million Americans placed over $15 billion in wagers on the NCAA Tournament, roughly 18 million more than bet on Super Bowl 57, although the average Super Bowl bet was larger, with over $16 billion bet when the Eagles faced the Chiefs in February.March Madness basketball

Callum Broxton: More popular than ever, by far. The biggest factor, of course, is the number of states which had their first March Madness with legal online betting, but for me, the rise of Name Image Likeness (NIL) deals also played a massive part. College basketball is still a long way away from pro sports in terms of superstar names, but now that players are able to make major brand deals, the profile of the best players has shot up. This is huge for betting because it opens the door to player props becoming far more popular. I think the books will have taken more money on those markets year after year as a result.

OG: Given another tournament of upsets, to what extent are sportsbooks now expecting the unexpected?

Broxton: March Madness is notorious for being unpredictable, but this year it was at another level, and the books loved it – they came out as huge winners this year. The trading teams will bank this one and move on pretty quickly, though, to get themselves set for baseball season (with its new rules) and the NBA playoffs.

Dubin: With multiple early-round upsets, including the second-ever 16 over 1 first-round defeat, this year’s tournament will go down as one of the most surprising and entertaining ever. As a matter of fact, the Final Four featured a set of teams, the “favorite” of whom, San Diego State, was +6000 to win the National Championship going into the Tournament. The other three teams were even longer odds: UCONN at +10000, Miami at +12000, and Florida Atlantic at a staggering +40000. For the first time ever, not a single No.1 seed made the Elite Eight, and the Final Four featured three teams who had never made it that far in their histories.

The most interesting takeaway from this may be that it is unlikely to change how sportsbooks price longshots. Upsets happen, and the books know this. That is the reason that the odds on the Final Four participants were so long before the tournament started. Sportsbooks move their odds based on the amount of money coming in on each side of a matchup. Once the original lines have been released, it is exceedingly rare that a book will do much, if anything, to alter their formulas for line movement, with the rare but notable exception of an instance where the book has reason to suspect that a matchup is somehow not entirely on the level.

OG: How has the roll-out of sports betting across the US affected betting levels around the tournament?BettorOff

Dubin: As expected, the growth of legalized online sports betting in the US has resulted in rising handles virtually across the board, and March Madness was no exception, with the event raking in over $16 billion in handles from over 68 million Americans.

Broxton: The AGA predicted $15.5b would be wagered on the tournament, while in 2022, they predicted just $3.1b. This is all part of the natural growth that you’d expect to come with the number of new states to legalize online wagering in the last 12 months, but it is still a monumental difference. I think we’ll also see a strong improvement in the states which were life last year, and you have to give credit to the sportsbooks for this, especially FanDuel and DraftKings. They haven’t sat on their laurels as the top dogs and have made some seriously impressive product updates for users to enjoy.

OG: What are the integrity concerns that remain around betting on college sports, and how are these being addressed?

Broxton: I think the AGA has been very proactive on this front, especially in the new rules on marketing sports betting products in and around colleges. The NIL deals help, too, as college athletes are now able to monetize their early career stages, and as a consequence, any sort of nefarious financial offers become less appealing. The operators also have a huge responsibility here when it comes to spotting any unusual betting activity, and in a market where the daily sports calendar is relentless, it’s vital they have every possible safeguard in place.march madness 2023

Dubin: Integrity concerns will always be present in sports, particularly where there are participants who are not making as much money as they would like. High payouts disincentivize athletes from fixing games because the money they stand to make is less than what they are making by playing by the rules. And although incidents such as the ones involving former NBA referee Tim Donaghy do occur, they have become exceedingly rare. For college sports, however, these broad-based financial incentives are more the exception than the rule. Although NIL contracts are making some college athletes very wealthy while they are still in school, the fact is that the vast majority of student-athletes will never sign a NIL deal, making them ideal targets for point-shaving and match-fixing schemes. Today, we are seeing AI and machine learning utilized as integrity tools, performing oversite tasks from monitoring line movements to analyzing in-game video and stats. The battle against cheating in college sports will continue, much the same as the battle against PEDs, with technology playing a larger and larger role in enforcement and detection.

OG: How can the sports betting industry turn casual fans – those who fill in brackets or have workplace pools – into sports bettors? Do suppliers have a role in that?

Dubin: We have seen two main avenues of approach to this question; 1) aggressive mass-marketing or 2) educating the public about betting. At BettorOff, our approach is to provide actionable insights to our community by highlighting the pickers who truly know their stuff. What is crucially important is that every user on our platform has verified pick histories and statistics stored on the blockchain and which are freely available to everyone.

Broxton: The most logical way is the cross-sell, and we saw BetMGM and a couple of other operators do that this year with ‘free to enter’ brackets which were integrated into their sportsbook products. But some of those integrations weren’t super smooth, and if you were to add in bet slip click-outs and betting prompts within that, you’d see far more uptake.

OG: The NCAA Women’s tournament has experienced record-breaking popularity in terms of both attendance and viewing figures. Is that translating into betting activity as well?

Callum Broxton

Broxton: It’s a shame the season takes such a long break; it won’t be back until November! The final should be a sliding doors moment for sports betting interest, though. Angel Reese and Caitlin Clark have turned into household names overnight. In March 2024, there’ll be more anticipation than ever for the women’s tournament. I don’t doubt interest will increase from betting angles when the new season kicks off, but at a time of year when the NFL, college football, NBA, and NHL are all rolling, it won’t be until the tournament itself that we see the real uptick.

Dubin: The exploding popularity of this year’s Women’s Tournament was thanks in large part to multiple compelling storylines, most notably that of the incomparable Caitlin Clark.  The championship game, which pitted Iowa against LSU, drew a record 10 million viewers and dominated social media in the aftermath. The tournament featured a 30% increase in total handle over the 2022 edition, with a BetMGM analyst comparing the level of action to that of an NFL game.

Liga Tarasova has a history of quality assurance and leading teams in an outsourcing company. Currently, she is working remotely as an Editor in Chief for Onlinegamblers.com. She stands for fair and safe gambling for people in the USA. Not long ago, she lived in Malta, the global iGaming hub, and worked at an iGaming company offering cloud-based product and platform services to B2B partners. Liga’s passion is visual arts and interior design.

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