The annual NCAA March Madness event begins on March 19, which means sports bettors will spend this weekend planning the perfect brackets for the tournament. Office pools or competitions between friends are as synonymous with March Madness as the college games themselves despite the legal grey area of sportsbetting.
In Canada, players are free to bet on multiple games at the same time through regulated sportsbetting sites and casinos. Canadian sportsbetting laws dictate gamblers must bet on a minimum of three games, and the NCAA tournament provides more than enough opportunity for betting activity to be classified as legal. There is currently a bill before the Canadian Parliament that if passed, would amend the sportsbetting laws to legalize single game bets as well. The NCAA challenged the merits of the bill, preferring the status quo rather than single game bets.
In the US, sportsbetting is considered illegal across most of the country with the exception of Nevada, Montana, Oregon, and Delaware – which all legalized sportsbetting prior to a 1992 federal law that banned other states from enacting their own sportsbetting laws. However, offices across the country partake in betting pools on March Madness regardless of the legal grey area of sportsbetting.
The FBI says during every March Madness event, over $2.5 billion is illegally gambled on the tournament. The federal body launched various unsuccessful investigations to put a stop to illegal betting activity. The FBI says there is little incentive for sports bettors to change their behaviour because in most cases, the laws only permit offenders to face a fine. The FBI’s concerns are validated by research conducted by the American Gaming Association. According to the AGA, legal sports books process less than 1 percent of all national sports bets each year.
As with Canada, the NCAA challenges the US sportsbetting market. The organization posted on its website that college basketball games, whether during March Madness or any other time of the year, are for the athletes instead of gamblers hoping to profit from the matchups.
“The NCAA believes sports should be appreciated for the benefits of participating or watching, not the amount of money that can be won or lost depending on the outcome of the games.”
Thousands of Americans recognize sportsbetting is technically illegal, but betting on the games makes March Madness more exciting – and no amount of internal protests from the NCAA will change that behaviour.