March Madness betting — mostly illegal — expected to hit $9.2 billion

Las Vegas Sun

Bettors make their wagers in a ballroom during the second round of the NCAA basketball tournament Thursday, March 20, 2014, at South Point.

Americans are expected to bet $9.2 billion on March Madness this year, according to an estimate released today by a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying and trade group for the casino industry.

The projection from the American Gaming Association includes wagering through office pools, legal Nevada sports books, offshore sites and illegal bookies. It marks an uptick from last year, when the association said Americans would bet $9 billion on the annual college basketball tournament.

The association again expects fans to complete upwards of 70 million brackets, a figure it said would likely surpass the number of votes received by any individual presidential candidate in November.

Also, of the total amount that will be wagered this year, the association expects only about $262 million will be wagered legally at Nevada sports books.

“Americans’ passion for betting fuels the unmatched popularity of March Madness,” Geoff Freeman, the association’s president, said in a statement. “Betting increasingly drives sports fans — and even casual observers — to invest in the tournament, offering further evidence that sports betting is the new national pastime. It’s time for a fresh, rational approach to sports betting that reflects this reality.”

Before March Madness last year, the association released research showing about 40 million U.S. residents would fill out brackets, with the average bet per bracket totalling $29.

Sports betting in general has become a major focus for the association, which announced late last year its plans to find a “rational alternative” to existing sports betting law.

The association released similar betting projections around the Super Bowl. This year, it projected Americans wagered about $4.2 billion on the championship football game, most of it illegally.