March Madness, the traditional period of college basketball tournament playoffs, will be accompanied by sports betting for the second year in many U.S. states. In May 2018 the Supreme Court ruled that sports betting was legal in states that legislated for it in their jurisdictions. This is the second March in which NCAA fans can bet on the playoffs and the excitement has been building as new states join the action.
Three of the nation’s newest sports betting states, Montana, Illinois and Michigan, are gearing up to bring sports betting to their states’ residents.
March Madness refers to the period (mid-March through the beginning of April) when women’s and men’s NCAA tournaments are held to determine that year’s top college basketball team. College basketball fans wait for March Madness in much the same way as football fans anticipate the Super Bowl.
March Madness is a huge event for sports enthusiasts. The 2020 March Madness is scheduled to take place in selected U.S. cities between March 15th and April 6th. The American Gaming Association is anticipating bets of close to $10 billion on the 2020 NCAA Tournament with approximately one in five U.S. adults wagering on tournament games. All in all, March Madness betting is generally higher than Super Bowl with wager options that include bracket bets, casual bets and both retail and online bets.
Nevada, West Virginia, Indiana, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Oregon, New Jersey and Iowa allow both retail and online betting while Arkansas, Delaware, Mississippi, New Mexico and New York allow retail-only wagers.
A few states have legislated sports betting but don’t yet have the infrastructure for betting to take place. They include New Hampshire, North Carolina, Tennessee and Colorado.
Michigan, Illinois and Montana officials have been rushing to get sports betting up and running in time for March Madness.
In Illinois officials have been working hard to have sports betting live in time for March Madness. Governor JB Pritzker’s office announced that "The Governor is pleased that Illinois sportsbooks will open for business by March Madness, generating revenue to rebuild universities, hospitals and other facilities across the state."
Sports betting legislation was passed in June of last year for retail-only wagers. Up until now the state has been slow to issue official regulations and approve licenses to operate sportsbooks. The lure of the March Madness revenue, as well as faster action on the part of neighboring Iowa and Indiana to start taking bets, has spurred Illinois to make sports betting available to state punters in time for the March Madness action.
Three Illinois casinos have been issued temporary sports betting operating permits including the Rivers Casino in Des Plaines, the Argosy Casino in Alton and the Grand Victoria Casino in Elgin.
State laws say that if a team from Illinois is playing, wagers on that team may not be placed in Illinois since the sports betting law in Illinois prohibits bets from being placed on any of the state’s collegiate teams.
In the future, when sports betting goes live officially in Illinois, it will be possible to bet on-site at any of the casinos with a sportsbook as well as through mobile apps offered by those casinos. Fantasy Sports Operators such as DraftKings and FanDuel will start offering mobile sports betting 18 months after online sports betting goes live in the state but as of yet, no official date has been set for online sports betting to launch.
In Montana, the lottery is in charge of supervising sports betting. Montana lottery officials have approved bet types and kinds of sports to pave the way for sports betting to launch in time for March Madness.
Montana Lottery communications manager Jennifer McKee said that wagering terminals will be installed in time to take wagers for March Madness games. “We are in the home stretch of our planning and testing,” McKee said. “We are really looking forward to getting Sports Bet Montana in the market, and we’re as excited as Montanans are for betting to begin.”
McKee said that over 100 terminal agents have been trained and licensed and 1,400 establishments that sell lottery products will receive sports betting terminals. Montana also requires that establishments that have terminals be licensed for alcohol sales as well, a regulation that has led to at least one lawsuit.
In Montana sports betting is viewed as a new lottery game. That means that Intralot, the state’s lottery provider, has been given the task of incorporating sports betting into existing lottery operations. At present, mobile sports wagering will not be available in Montana.
Bettors can only place their bets at designated locations where the terminals are set up. Players will be able to use mobile devices to place bets but only within a close proximity to a sports betting kiosk.
Michigan’s tribal and commercial casinos have been working to get their sportsbooks up and running in time for March Madness. Paperwork, logistics and other issues were made it a last minute proposition but the lure of March Madness revenue made it worthwhile for all involved.
Mary Kay Bean, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Gaming Control Board explained that only the Detroit, commercial casinos are subjected to MGCB jurisdiction. Tribal casinos in Michigan must go through the same application process as the commercial casinos but other than that, they are subject to only to Federal law.
Even if sports betting isn’t running when March Madness begins, the goal, said Bean, is to have it up and running in time for the final NCAA Tournament on April 6th. “Right now, we are in the process of vetting applications,” Bean said. “This process is just like if a casino ordered new slot machines or playing cards, we have to examine and vet all of the equipment to make sure the integrity of the experience is maintained.”
In Michigan, each casino can develop their own apps for mobile sports betting. “The casinos will be able to kind of do their own thing when it comes to mobile,” Bean said. “Of course, all of the software will have to be approved by our Board, but each casino will be a little different.”
Michigan’s tax rate for sports gambling is 8.4 percent for in-person bets made in casinos and between 20 and 28 percent for online sports bets, depending on the adjusted gross receipts.