State anticipates gain from March Madness betting

DOVER — For the first time, Delaware residents can bet legally on March Madness.

Every year, millions of Americans place wagers on the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament with most of those bets being made illegally.

But this year, with sports betting legalized through a May Supreme Court decision, a whole new avenue has opened up for fans to win — or lose — money based on their predictions.

Between bets on individual games and bracket predictions, the American Gaming Association expects 47 million Americans to wager $8.5 billion on the tournament.

That’s more than twice the number of people who bet on last month’s Super Bowl, according to the association.

“Unlike any other sporting event in the country, March Madness attracts millions who fill out brackets, make casual bets with friends or wager at a legal sportsbook, which Americans can now do more than ever before,” AGA President and CEO Bill Miller said in a statement.

From office pools to huge sportsbook wagers, gamblers will bet $4.6 billion on 149 million brackets, the AGA estimates.

Millions of people will continue to bet illegally, but the state of Delaware and its three casinos stand to benefit from legalized expanded sports betting.

Dover Downs’ sportsbook will be opening earlier than normal, and while the company is forbidden by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission from publicly sharing what it might gain, executives are hoping the volume matches what the casino saw for the Super Bowl.

“We’re gearing up for it,” said Ed Sutor, president and CEO of Dover Downs Hotel & Casino.

From Thursday through Sunday, the sportsbook will be open from 9 a.m. to midnight.

The tournament kicks off with the first two games today before beginning in earnest Thursday, and this year, there’s more to keep fans interested.

Whether your favorite team did not make the field or is a No. 1 seed, wagering on the action can make the games more exciting. Suddenly, that 5-12 matchup featuring a team you’ve never heard of carries extra weight thanks to the money you stand to win if only the underdog can pull off the upset.

All around the country, Americans will be glued to their TVs, computers and phones during the first two rounds of March Madness, which see 32 games across Thursday and Friday and 16 over the weekend.

According to the AGA, 29 percent of bettors are picking the Duke Blue Devils, the top overall seed, to win the whole thing. Nine percent side with the Gonzaga Bulldogs, 8 percent go for the North Carolina Tar Heels and 7 percent favor the Kentucky Wildcats.

But of course, it’s the upsets that make March Madness great. Correctly picking which team will go on a Cinderella run could make you a tidy chunk of change, while accurately nailing every single result in the bracket would do a fair bit more (keep in mind the odds of a perfect bracket are something like 9.2 quintillion to 1).

Delaware does not have any specific expectations as to how much it might bring in, according to Delaware Lottery Director Vernon Kirk.

“We’re just trying to establish a baseline for what we may expect,” he said.

Since the launch of full-scale sports betting in early June through the end of January, almost 1.9 million wagers totaling about $99 million had been bet on sports in Delaware’s three casinos.

About $5.2 million has gone to Delaware’s coffers, with the casinos keeping approximately $5.1 million and $1.5 million being paid to vendors. The rest — just over $87 million — has been won back by players.

So far, betting has exceeded expectations. Dover Downs, for instance, has been “pleasantly surprised” by the nearly 374,000 wagers it saw over the first eight months of legalized sports betting, Mr. Sutor said.

Whether you’re a hardcore fan who can name the Michigan State Spartans’ starting five or someone who fills out a bracket based off which teams have the best mascot, March Madness has something for just about everyone.

And this year, that is Delaware’s gain.

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