Fewer brackets but same number plan bets on March Madness

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Fans watch college basketball in the sports betting facility at the Tropicana casino in Atlantic City, N.J. on March 8, 2019, the last year the March Madness tournament was held. The American Gaming Association predicts 47 million people will bet on this year's tournament, about the same as two years ago. But 8% fewer plan to fill out brackets pools because many offices remain closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – Fewer Americans expect to fill out brackets for the NCAA's college basketball tournament this year, but the overall number of people making bets on March Madness should remain about the same as the last time the tournament was held, according to the gambling industry's national trade association.

The American Gaming Association released figures Sunday predicting that more than 47 million Americans plan to make a bet — legal or otherwise — on March Madness this year. That's about the same number that said they planned to bet on the 2019 tournament.

The tournament was canceled in 2020 shortly before it was scheduled to begin just as the coronavirus was deemed a pandemic by the World Health Organization.

The virus will affect this year's tournament, too: It is the main reason, according to the survey, that 36.7 million Americans will fill out a bracket, down 8% from 2019, because many offices and other places of employment remain closed, with employees working from home, or not at all.

But the slack is expected to be almost totally made up for by the continuing rapid expansion of legal sports betting in the U.S. The association says 30.6 million Americans will bet in other ways on this year’s tournament, up from 17.8 million in 2019.

Those include bets placed with casinos, racetracks, online betting apps and illegal bookmakers, or casually with a friend.

The survey found 17.8 million people will place a bet online, up 206% from 5.8 million in 2019. And 8.3 million will place a bet at a physical sportsbook, up 79% from 2019.

“The sports betting landscape has changed dramatically since 2019, and as a result, tournament betting has transformed,” AGA President and CEO Bill Miller said. “As consumers formerly limited to bracket contests now enjoy access to legal sportsbook options, they also plan to place traditional sports bets as March Madness returns.”