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Inside Gaming: Basketball Bettors Ready for March Madness; February Fall in Atlantic City

Las Vegas Sportsbook

This week’s Inside Gaming looks at the upcoming NCAA men’s basketball tournament and predictions regarding betting — legal and otherwise — on “March Madness,” while also checking out last months’s casino revenue figures for Atlantic City.

Billions to be Bet on March Madness Brackets

The 2015 NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament begins next week, and this weekend the selection committee will announce which 68 teams will play in the tournament and the seedings and bracket for the single-elimination tournament. The announcement will be made Sunday, March 15 from 6-7 p.m. ET on CBS during its annual selection show, and as soon as the bracket becomes available millions will begin the process of filling one out — or many of them — all taking part in a sports betting event bigger even than the Super Bowl.

According to research conducted by the American Gaming Association and released yesterday, 40 million Americans will be filling about more than 70 million NCAA brackets this year as part of “office pools” and other related forms of gambling on the tournament.

The AGA’s research suggests more than $9 billion will be wagered on the “March Madness” tournament, more than twice the $3.9 billion the AGA estimates was wagered on the Super Bowl this year. Of that total, $2 billion will be bet via the brackets, with the average person filling out two brackets and the average bet being $29 per bracket.

Meanwhile, the AGA believes only $240 million of that total will be bet at Nevada sportsbooks, although as David Purdum of ESPN reports, those running the sportsbooks believe that estimate to be high. “The consensus estimate among Las Vegas bookmakers is $100 million to $200 million [will be bet on the NCAA tournament] statewide,” writes Purdum.

Reports by the Nevada Gaming Control each month include totals wagered on basketball without specifying how much is bet on college versus pro. Purdum notes that over the last five years betting on basketball goes up each March to an average of $294.6 million, more than twice the $140 million in basketball bets taken each February.

A month ago not quite $116 million was wagered in Nevada sportsbooks on Super Bowl XLIX, down a bit from the previous year’s record $119.4 million.

Of the $9 billion total the AGA estimates will be bet on the NCAA tournament this year, $7 billion of that total will be wagered illegally. However, as Purdum notes, such calculations are difficult to make accurately “because bookies on the corner don’t publicly report earnings,” nor “do the offshore books that handle the bulk of Americans’ bets.”

You might recall a year ago how Quicken Loans, Yahoo, and Warren Buffet’s multinational conglomerate holding company Berkshire Hathaway Inc. partnered to offer a $1 billion prize to anyone able to fill out a perfect NCAA bracket — i.e., setting aside the four play-in games, picking correctly all 63 winners through the championship. None of the millions who participated even made it through the second day of first-round games before missing a pick.

There will be no such contest this year thanks to ongoing lawsuits resulting from last year’s promotion. CNNMoney explains how SCA Promotions, a sweepstakes company, sued Yahoo for backing out of a previous deal to host such a contest, then Yahoo has countersued claiming SCA went to Buffet and Berkshire Hathaway prematurely to discuss insuring the contest.

Dribble over to ESPN to read more about what the sportsbooks are saying about the NCAA tournament tipping off.

Atlantic City Casinos Down in February

Atlantic City casino revenue for February was reported this week, with seven of the eight casinos down for the month as overall gambling revenue totaled $178.4 million, a decline of about 14.8% from the $209.4 million from February 2014. That follows a positive month in January the overall revenue for Atlantic City casinos was up 0.9% from the previous year while the eight surviving casinos were up 18.8% in gambling revenue.

The total from a year ago included three of the four casinos that would close before the end of the year — the Showboat, the Revel, and the Trump Plaza. By then the Atlantic Club had already closed in January 2014. Even when only counting the eight remaining casinos there was a year-over-year decline in February from $181.8 million to $178.4 million (down about 1.9%).

As detailed by the Press of Atlantic City, only the Golden Nugget saw a gain last month, up 22.5% from a year ago and 44% overall on the year. Meanwhile, the embattled Trump Taj Mahal suffered the largest decline of 23.6%. Following the relatively better January, only Trump Taj Mahal and Bally’s are down for the year thus far.

Over on the online gaming side the story was better for Atlantic City casinos, with the $10.4 million in revenue for February representing a slight increase over the $10.3 million of a year ago, though a dip from the $11.5 million of January 2015. The overall online revenue total was affected significantly by a huge $1.52 million jackpot won by a player on Valentine’s Day on’s poker-based “Let it Ride” game.

The Golden Nugget was also the strongest performer in terms of the growth of its online revenue in Feburary, and for the first two months of 2015 has increased 11% over a year ago.

For more on the past month on the Boardwalk, stroll over to the Press of Atlantic City.

Photo: “race & sports book,” fictures. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.

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