Betting on NCAA March Madness basketball games will hit $10 billion, most of it illegal

  • The American Gaming Association projects that only 3 percent of the expected $10 billion in March Madness wagering will be legal.
  • Nearly 24 million people participated in NCAA college basketball bracket pools last year, accounting for $3 billion of last year's betting total.
  • Office pools are generally illegal in 37 states, while the certain parameters allow for pools in the remaining 13.
An aerial view of the North Carolina Tar Heels v Florida Gulf Coast Eagles first round of the NCAA Mens Basketball Tournament.
Streeter Lecka | Getty Images

Americans are expected to bet more than $10 billion on the NCAA March Madness basketball tournament this year. Only 3 percent of that total (approximately $300 million) is expected to take place in a legal environment, according to the American Gaming Association.

NCAA March Madness games already are under way with play-in games completed on Tuesday and Wednesday, and Americans are expected to wager more than $10 billion between now and the 2018 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament championship game on April 2.

Nevada is currently the only state where Americans can legally wager on a single college basketball game, though more states may find themselves in the sports-betting mix once the U.S. Supreme court makes its decision on the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA). A decision is expected by June, and legal experts believe the court is receptive to changing the legislation.

"As the Supreme Court considers the constitutionality of PASPA, AGA is focused on working with all stakeholders to put the illegal market out of business and enable a safe, legal way for American consumers to participate in next year's office pool without fear of prosecution," said Geoff Freeman, president and CEO of the American Gaming Association in the press release.

The illegal hoops tourney brackets that many college basketball fans and casual observers will partake in comes amid a broader effort by states to legalize betting on professional sports, led by the NBA and MLB.

The typical office pool used for a variety of sports betting remains illegal in 37 states regardless of circumstance. In another 13 states exemptions exist, such as friendly wagering. However, no state allows for-profit sports-pool betting. The PASPA legislation being reviewed by the Supreme Court applies to multiple types of sports gambling, such as fantasy leagues with buy-ins and casual sports bets among friends and acquaintances.

The $10 billion forecast for this year's March Madness NCAA basketball tournament includes sports pools, like popular March Madness basketball brackets. Nearly 24 million people, which is approximately 10 percent of the American adult population, participated in college basketball pools in 2017, accounting for nearly $3 billion in wagering. Similar sports betting includes grid pools, pick 'em pools, survivor pools or a cash-based fantasy sports pool. An estimated 54 million people, or nearly one-quarter of American adults, participated in a pool last year, wagering nearly $18 billion.

Watch: The big business of betting on March Madness