The magic of March Madness is in full swing as the U.S. prepares for one of the biggest sports celebrations of the calendar year. The 68-team field is set, play-in games got underway last night and millions of Americans have already set to work filling out their brackets to the best of their basketball knowledge.
All of this is done in hopes of claiming significant bragging rights and a sweet cash prize pot. From offices to households to classrooms to bars in the US, money bracket pools have become a yearly highlight for basketball fans and non-basketball fans alike. There’s just one small issue. They’re illegal.
But if you just Venmo’d your old college roommate that entry fee, don’t fret. The feds aren’t about to come bashing down any Americans' front door. The fact is that with the exception of larger scale operations run by organized crime syndicates, there is not a whole lot of effort put into the enforcement of federal and state gambling laws.
So little, in fact, that the American Gaming Association has determined that 54 million people (a quarter of the US adult population) compete against their peers and strangers in sports betting pools annually. Those 54 million spend a ludicrous $18 billion in entry fees, and the 24 million of them who fill out March Madness brackets are expected to drop over $10 billion in total.
That’s a lot of money earned by a practice that’s against the laws of 2/3 of U.S. states. It’s for this reason that the Association is so strongly in favor of legalizing and regulating sports betting in order to tap in to that black market for the benefit of cash-strapped states of which the U.S. has no shortage of. Geoff Freeman, CEO of the AGA believes regulation and legalization is the responsible path to take when dealing with the issue of sports betting moving forward:
“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. 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…There’s a lot of money that’s going to go to innovation that’s currently sitting on the sidelines.”
As New Jersey currently battles the NCAA in a Supreme Court case that could take down the federal ban on sports betting, PASPA, the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey takes a neutral stance on legalization should it see its day, calling it a “cause for concern.” The basis of that concern, explains the executive director of the group Neva Pryor, revolves mainly around making sure legislation is done right and accounts for risks to potential betters.
“Sports betting may have more appeal to our children; it has the potential to affect the integrity of the games, and it may put many more people at risk for problem and disordered gambling.”
While such claims are something to consider, it would appear that bringing about legalization and regulation would do more good than harm in the fight to rein in those issues. Aside from the obviously substantial monetary gains that would be available for states to put towards bettering their communities through taxation, legalization would allow for a safer practice for many betters who currently have to rely on honor systems and stay secretive and guarded about their wagers. It would also deal a major blow against previously mentioned organized crime operations in terms of revenue and that’s an inherently good thing.
Meanwhile in Las Vegas, located in the only state where sports betting is fully legalized, sportsbooks are getting psyched up for the annual rush of the tournament as it’s considered one of the biggest events of the year in Sin City. Art Manteris, Station Casino’s vice president of race and sports operations, said there’s no place he’d rather be when second round matchups tip off Thursday:
“I’ve always said for many years that if I ever moved away from Las Vegas for any reason, the first four days of the tournament would inevitably be the time of year I visited. Being in a sportbooks during the early rounds of the NCAA Tournament is incomparable to anything else for sports fans.”
While filling out the perfect bracket is always a daunting task, the odds have looked more favorable to underdogs on the whole than usual and it’s setting stage for what should be a highly competitive, parity-filled tourney. Tony Miller, Golden Nugget’s sports book director, thinks the field and its seeding will make for an exciting time for everybody jumping in on the action.
“All four regions looked pretty tight to us. There wasn’t one region where we thought one team had a favorable position over another team. I think it’s going to be a great tournament. It’s wide open.”
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