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March Madness? More Like 'March Sadness' For Casino Industry

Another Year Defined By What Could Have Been For Casinos


The NCAA college basketball tournament is humming along and generating a huge volume of wagers at Nevada’s regulated sports books. However, the casino industry as a whole is far more focused on the money that it is not making this March.

The glass is half-empty in the industry’s eyes.

For the past several years, the American Gaming Association, the casino industry’s top lobbying group on Capitol Hill, has used betting activity on popular sporting events to bolster its case for the U.S. government to allow sports books in any state that wants them. The argument for reform is that there’s a roughly $150 billion-a-year sports betting black market in the U.S.

Current federal law limits sports books to just Nevada, but the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on that law by mid-year. The industry anticipates that sports betting will be allowed to expand nationwide. About 20 states have acted to get ahead of the expected ruling.

“Our current sports betting laws are so out of touch with reality that we’re turning tens of millions of Americans into criminals for the simple act of enjoying college basketball,” Geoff Freeman, president and CEO of the AGA, said of the legal landscape at the moment.

Earlier this month, the AGA said that more than $10 billion will be wagered throughout the tournament, but only about three percent will be wagered legally through Silver State sports books. The commercial casino industry, which has expanded well beyond Las Vegas since the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, wants to tap into that new revenue stream. Commercial casino gaming win is north of $40 billion annually these days, but growth has slowed. The gambling hubs of Las Vegas and Atlantic City haven’t recovered to levels seen before the financial crisis.

In Nevada, March 2017 saw $439.5 million bet on basketball, on both the NCAA and the NBA. That figure was an all-time high for the state in terms of the basketball handle. The casinos won more than $41 million of those bets, which represented a win percentage of nearly 10 percent. That win percentage was higher than the average for the books. Over the 12 months prior to Feb. 1, 2018, Nevada books retained 5.6 percent of all their basketball bets.

In other words, the U.S. casino industry could stand to generates hundreds of millions of dollars in additional gambling win should brackets and bets on March Madness be allowed in sports books across the country. The tournament is still a major draw for Las Vegas. The Las Vegas Sun reported that two of the three busiest weekends in terms of hotel room occupancy over the last two years were during the NCAA tournament. However, the U.S. casino industry is less reliant on the gambling hub for its winnings than arguably ever before, which makes sports books at regional casinos incredibly attractive. The 2018 tournament could be the last year of missed opportunity.

Tags: NCAA,   Basketball,   Sports Betting,   AGA,   PASPA