The upset-filled men’s NCAA tournament has been a dream scenario for betting operators.
As a general rule of thumb, sportsbooks make a killing any time a heavy favorite loses—the public prefers to back the better team, both in single wagers and in larger parlays—and this year’s tournament has been historic in that regard. The combined total of the seeds of the teams in the Sweet 16 (94) is an all-time record for March Madness.
That’s great news for sportsbooks like PointsBet. The single game that attracted the biggest handle for PointsBet was also its most lucrative of the tournament, when No. 8 seed Loyola-Chicago upset top-seeded Illinois.
The upsets have eased PointsBet’s liability on the eventual champion as well. Of the 10 teams that would have cost PointsBet the most money if they were to win the title, six have already been eliminated. They include the top two (Texas and Illinois), plus Missouri (No. 4), Iona (No. 8), Texas Tech (No. 9) and Oklahoma State (No. 10).
The NCAA tournament is always the biggest sports gambling event on the calendar, and this year has turned into a perfect storm of sorts for gambling houses. First, sports betting has boomed during the pandemic as people stuck at home turn increasingly to day-trading and online wagering. More people at home might boost weekday viewership and will definitely result in fewer office pools, forcing people to turn elsewhere for action.
The last NCAA tournament, in 2019, was the first since the Supreme Court struck down the federal ban on sports gambling. That year there were eight states with legal sports betting; this year there are 21, plus Washington, D.C.
PointsBet, which is live in six states, took three times as many wagers in the first three days of the NCAA tournament as it did for this year’s Super Bowl.
Sportico will be publishing one short business highlight every weekday (and on some weekend days) during the three-week NCAA tournament.
March 20: Men’s vs. Women’s NCAA Tournament Money
March 21: Indexing the NCAA’s Corporate Sponsors