March Madness & Problem Gambling

There’s a reason why March is National Problem Gambling Awareness Month — it’s because of the “Madness” that ensues during the annual NCAA basketball tournament. From high-stakes bracket pools to non-stop betting lines on sportsbooks, the prospect of gambling is very tempting in the month of March, even for individuals who rarely gamble or watch sports. Here, we explore the relationship between March Madness and problem gambling.

Fact: Millions of Americans Are Willing to Break the Law for March Madness

Every March, the nation goes absolutely mad over the NCAA’s annual March Madness tournament — and it’s truly an exhilarating competition! There’s nothing wrong with placing a modest wager on a legal March Madness bracket pool with your family, friends, coworkers, or anyone else you bond with over sports and competition. However, when someone has money in more bracket pools than they can count, while wagering on several individual matchups daily through sportsbooks, the Madness of March starts to become problematic.

According to AGA estimates, more than 7 million Americans placed illegal wagers on the NCAA March Madness tournament in 2019. You might assume that the vast majority of illegal March Madness wagers come from offshore bookies, since that is generally the source of most illegal sports gambling. But what about the estimated 149 million brackets that were filled out by more than 40 million Americans in 2019 — how many of those do you think were facilitated by a state-licensed gambling operator? Additionally, how many of those brackets contributed to sports gambling problems in Vineland and other communities throughout New Jersey?

March Madness Bracket Pools

The constant media coverage of March Madness can trigger risky behavior in some individuals, many of whom gamble illegally. For instance, many companies around the nation have office bracket pools for March Madness, which are often in violation of workplace gambling laws. Just to reiterate, there’s nothing wrong with having some fun during March Madness, and that includes organizing a bracket pool with your coworkers. But workplace gambling laws exist for a reason, and you may be unaware of a coworker who is struggling with or has recently recovered from a gambling problem. An office bracket pool can make recovering problem gamblers feel uncomfortable in the office or even worse, trigger a relapse. So, take extra care to keep bracket pools with your coworkers out of the office. 

Sportsbook Wagering

In 2019, the AGA estimates that 18 million Americans wagered on March Madness basketball through a sportsbook (either in person or online), or through a friend who had access to a sportsbook. Roughly 42 percent of those wagers were likely placed illegally through unauthorized bookies, either directly in person or online, or through a friend with direct access to an unauthorized bookie. Similarly to bracket pools, there’s nothing wrong with placing a few modest sportsbook wagers to add to the excitement of March Madness — it only becomes a problem when the wagers become your main focus each day, to the point where your daily life becomes disrupted or negatively affected due to your gambling habits. 

Why Does March Madness Exacerbate Problem Gambling?

March Madness is more than a college basketball tournament; it’s a decades-old tradition that is paramount in American sports culture. And if there’s anything we know about major events associated with American sports culture, it’s that they are frequently accompanied by another staple of American culture — gambling. March Madness crams 67 action-packed matchups into just a few short weeks, drawing potent media coverage and providing a national spotlight for many notorious sports gambling figures. Additionally, it feels like every other word you hear in the month of March is about someone’s bracket or their sportsbook wagers for the week — so it’s understandable why individuals who are prone to risky behavior may develop a gambling problem during the Madness of the NCAA basketball tournament in March. 

Call 800-GAMBLER for Help With a Gambling Problem

If you know someone with a sports gambling problem in Trenton or elsewhere in the Garden State, call 800-GAMBLER anytime 24/7 to reach our confidential helpline. 




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