AGA Expects March To Truly Be Mad At Sportsbooks Around The Country

Written By Derek Helling on March 16, 2021 - Last Updated on March 15, 2021

When it comes to wagering on the NCAA D1 men’s basketball tournament, absence may make hearts grow fonder. That’s if the projections in the 2021 March Madness betting outlook put together by the American Gaming Association prove accurate.

The AGA predicts a huge spike in wagers on the tourney this year in comparison to 2019. Its reasoning for the increase is about more than just the fact that there was no such tournament in 2020, however.

Highlights for the AGA’s March Madness betting outlook

The AGA doesn’t expect a huge spike in the total number of people betting on the tourney this year as compared to two years ago. Rather, sportsbooks around the country will owe what could be a record month to people choosing to place traditional sports bets instead of participating in bracket contests.

The AGA’s estimate for the number of people who will bet this year across the US is 47.4 million. That’s essentially flat from 2019. The report does expect sharp increases in deeper demographics, like:

  • The number of people who will place more traditional bets this year than they did in 2019? 30.6 million, up 17.8 million from 2019
  • How many people will place a bet online? 17.8 million, a whopping 206% increase from 2019’s 5.8 million
  • The number of people who will make a wager at a brick-and-mortar sportsbook? 8.3 million, 79% more than 2019

Part of that newfound enthusiasm for sports betting is a loss of interest in the good ole’ office or among friends bracket competitions. It’s easy to understand. Instead of trying to accurately predict the outcomes of 67 games, bettors can take those contests one at a time. Through live betting and props, they can cut the tournament down into even smaller bites.

Putting a number to it, the AGA says 8% fewer people will fill out brackets this year. There’s more to this story, yet, though.

Availability, innovation driving interest

The existence of more in-game and prop markets should play a part in more activity in 2021. Where permissible, some regulated sportsbooks plan to offer player-based props. Those markets were extremely rare at legal books in 2019.

New Jersey has no law against player-based props for college sports. It only bans wagering on teams in NJ and collegiate events that take place within the state’s borders. As all the games are happening in Indiana this year, the latter part of that statute won’t be an issue. NJ bettors won’t be able to bet on Rutgers games, of course.

The AGA says that interest in this year’s tournament is up about three percent as compared to the same statistic in 2019. That correlates to 65.4 million more Americans in 13 new jurisdictions having access to legal sportsbooks as opposed to how the map looked in 2019.

If more availability and interest means more wagers, then can we expect a new handle record for New Jersey sports betting this month? Well, it’s not really that simple. It’s important to remember that correlation is not causation.

More wagers don’t necessarily mean more handle

In March of 2019, handle among NJ sportsbooks rested at $372.45 million. The notable figure from that month was revenue. NJ books held $31.7 million in March 2019. At that time, it was a record for the market.

Could handle and revenue for March 2021 surpass those figures? It’s definitely possible. If you believe that more interest will drive new bettors to place wagers this year, you might buy that. Additionally, there are some New Jerseyans who were too young to place legal bets in 2019 but who are now of age.

However, some of the AGA’s soothsayings don’t lend well to this narrative. The report doesn’t expect a huge jump in total bettors, rather, that people who usually bet on this tournament anyway will simply place more wagers this year. That doesn’t mean there will be more handle.

For example, say you placed a couple of $20 bets in 2019. This year, you might be planning to place four bets, but sticking to the same budget. So, you’d place four $10 wagers instead. That still amounts to $40 in handle for the book.

2021 could see a record amount of activity, but that’s no guarantee that the bottom line will see a similar massive uptick. If the AGA is right, though, online sportsbooks’ servers and betting windows at NJ casinos will be busy this month.

Photo by AP/Darron Cummings
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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist from Chicago. In addition to gaming news, he covers esports, sports business and sports law. When he isn’t writing, he spends his serving his two Munchkin cat overlords.

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