America’s favorite occasion for gambling has arrived.
According to the American Gaming Association, Americans will bet a whopping $10 billion on the upcoming NCAA Tournament, through bracket pools, bookies, gambling websites, etc. Only $300 million of that, or about 3 percent of the total figure, will be bet legally through Las Vegas sports books.
As the AGA points out, the prevalence of illegal gambling surrounding the NCAA Tournament can make it seem silly that sports betting is so strictly regulated. Per the AGA, two thirds of states consider participation in sports pools to be illegal, meaning that you’re technically committing a crime by handing over $20 bucks and a bracket to Dave in accounting. The entire world of brackets, which largely drives America’s interest in March Madness, is actually a black market.
“Our current sports betting laws are so out of touch with reality that we’re turning tens of millions of Americans into criminals for the simple act of enjoying college basketball,” AGA president and CEO Geoff Freeman said in a release. “The failed federal ban on sports betting has created an illegal, unregulated sports betting market that offers zero consumer protections and generates zero revenue for state and tribal governments.
According to ESPN, 24 million Americans participated in NCAA Tournament pools last year, spending more $2.6 billion, while almost a quarter of American adults engaged in some sort of paid-entry pool.
Aside from the question of whether or not sports gambling should be more widely legal, can we take a moment to consider how massive a sum $10 billion of total March Madness betting is? That’s higher than the respective GDPs of about 70 countries, including Haiti, Kyrgyzstan and Guinea. It’s about six times the net worth of Michael Jordan, the wealthiest athlete of all-time. And it’s more than 10 times the annual revenue of the NCAA Tournament.
In other words, Americans really, really like to gamble, legally or otherwise.