Fans packed into Caesars Race & Sportsbook at Caesars Palace for the 2022 NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament and are expected to do the same in similar facilities this year around the United States. Photo courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook
MIAMI, March 16 (UPI) -- More wagers and overall interest is expected for 2023 NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament games, a majority that will be held in states with legalized sports gambling, industry experts told UPI.
Forty-one of the 67 tournament games are set for states with legalized gambling, Three games will be played in Las Vegas.
"It will change people's experience a little bit because they're not going to be simply tethered to their brackets for the next few weeks," said David Forman, the vice president of research at the American Gaming Association.
With legalized gambling, "they're not locked in by noon Thursday with how they want to bet for the whole month. They kind of change things up," Forman said.
Passing around paper brackets for office and school pools has given way to more tech-based options through sportsbook mobile apps from Caesars, FanDuel and BetMGM. Beyond allowing fans in specific states to fill out brackets, those platforms also allow wagers based on individual player and team statistics and more.
More widespread legalization of sports gambling will increase interest for those who may have stopped paying attention tot he tournament after making too many early bracket mistakes, experts say.
"All the research we've done shows that sports betting drives more fan engagement, whether it's March Madness, NFL or the NBA," Forman said. "Fans who are able to bet on the games are just more engaged with the sport teams and players they're watching.
That's true "whether it's reading more stories about them, following players on social media, buying tickets to a game or just keeping their TV tuned to a game longer. I think there's no question that legal sports betting is driving greater engagement with all sports," he said.
The American Game Association estimates 68 million American will wager $15.5 billion on this year's tournament, according to a recent survey. That survey found that 31 million people -- 18 million more than the Super Bowl -- plan to place sports wagers online, at a retail sportsbook or with a bookie.
FanDuel senior vice president and general manager Karol Corcoran said the company is providing its "strongest March Madness offering ever."
FanDuel will offer some bets that allow customers to see how many others placed wagers on certain offerings, in addition to same-game parlays, which allow users to combine multiple bets on a single game.
"What we're seeing is that a greater proportion of our customers have already bet on March Madness in the states that have really strong in-state teams," Corcoran said. "We have yet to see the states that are hosting games stand out from the crowd, but I expect that will happen.
"We did see that the year it was in Indiana. More customers in Indiana participated than in other states."
Representatives from FanDuel, Caesars and BetMGM each said bettors from several states favor their local team to win the title. Houston and Alabama are among overall favorites elsewhere.
"We're very much looking forward to see how our customers engage with it," Corcoran said. "This is the first time that Ohio, Maryland, Kansas, and, as of Friday, Massachusetts, will be able to bet legally online on March Madness. So I expect there to be even greater take-up in those states over the coming days."
Ken Fuchs, the COO and head of sports at Caesars, pointed to increased gambling education of the U.S. bettor and the "inherently social" nature of March Madness for reasons behind an expected spike of interest this year.
Caesars operates more than 190 retain in-person sportsbooks across North America.
"There are more places you can go watch it [and bet] at the same time," Fuchs said. "I think that's one aspect of it. I think that sports fans are more knowledgeable about sports betting than ever before, and they tend to know what to look for now."
Fuchs also expects a special atmosphere when the tournament heads to Las Vegas.
"I think that'll be a tremendous amount of fun because there will be just be a lot of energy around the games themselves," Fuchs said. "Then you think about the spillover into Caesars Palace, Paris and our sportsbooks up and down the Strip,
"I think it'll be this really fun, energetic time for both us and for sports fans and sports bettors everywhere."
BetMGM lead trader Seamus Magee said the sportsbook expects to see more bets coming from host sites, but notes that the matchups also play a role in betting action.
"We are expecting a slight uptick in action in states hosting first round games like Colorado and New York, but overall the teams playing in the game determine the action the most," Magee said.
The winner of the 2022 BetMGM Bracket Challenge correctly picked 22 first-round games, but still failed to achieve perfection in his bracket.
The NCAA says the odds of filling out a perfect bracket are 1 in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 if you guess or flip a coin for each pick.
The NCAA also says no perfect brackets were verified through the previous 84 editions of the tournament. Columbus, Ohio, neuropsychologist Gregg Nigl came the closest when he correctly picked the first 49 winners of the 2019 tournament.
Another contestant set a Yahoo record with 39 consecutive correct predictions in 2017.
In this year's tournament, Texas A&M Corpus Christi started March Madness with a win over fellow No. 16 seed Southeast Missouri State in the the First Four round Tuesday in Dayton, Ohio.
Two more First Four games were on tap Wednesday in Dayton, where sports betting is legal. Arizona State beat Nevada and Fairleigh Dickinson topped Texas Southern.
The Round of 64 -- or first round of the tournament -- will start Thursday afternoon. No. 8 Maryland will open play with a game against No. 9 West Virginia at 12:15 p.m. in Birmingham, Ala. That will air on CBS.
Twenty first-round games will be held in states with legal sports gambling. The Final 4 and national title game will be held in Houston, where sports gambling remains illegal.