'Every shot means something.' Basketball fans revel in, and bet on, March Madness tournament

This is the most intense time of the year for college basketball fans as the NCAA March Madness championship tournament begins

Wayne Parry
Thursday 21 March 2024 17:46 GMT

This is the best time of the year for Mark Bawers: Day after day of uninterrupted college basketball, all of it consequential.

“I love how excited everyone gets — every shot matters to someone: on the points spread, the total, on a bracket,” he said. “Someone's happy and someone's upset with every shot.”

Particularly those who have some money on the game. The annual NCAA basketball championship tournaments for men and women are the biggest betting events of the year, spanning several weeks.

The American Gaming Association estimates that American adults will legally wager $2.72 billion on the tournaments this year, with sports betting being legal in 38 states plus Washington, D.C.

Finances aside, the start of March Madness is a cultural event in the U.S., with people taking off work to gorge on televised hoops. Others who go to work may pretend to be busy, while frequently checking the scores on their phones, if they're not streaming it.

Joe Mascali of Sayreville, New Jersey has seen it firsthand.

“I work in IT, so we would steal part of the bandwith to watch the games,” said Mascali.

His pick is the same as that of many other people this year, including fans as disparate as ESPN host Stephen A. Smith and former President Barack Obama: a repeat by defending champion Connecticut.

UConn is the betting favorite on most platforms. On FanDuel, the official odds provider for The Associated Press, Connecticut is +370, meaning a $100 bet on them would win $370, for a total payout of $470, including the bettor's initial stake.

Connecticut has the most bets at FanDuel 17%, followed by North Carolina at 16%, Kentucky at 15% and Purdue at 7%.

Connecticut was also the pick of Bawers, who drove from Dover, Delaware with his father to watch the games at Atlantic City's Golden Nugget casino. His father picked Houston, as he has for the past three years.

Also picking Houston was high-profile gambler Jim McIngvale, a businessman who calls himself “Mattress Mack” and who regularly bets $1 million or more on Houston teams to win national championships. His wager with Caesars would pay $7.5 million if it wins.

A survey of 2,000 college basketball fans commissioned by the Tipico sports book found that the average fan will spend at least 36 hours involved with the tournament, including 13 hours of watching games, 10 hours of watching related content, and six hours creating brackets and placing bets.

Anthony Sanguino of Flanders, New Jersey used to fly to Las Vegas most years to watch and bet on the tournament. But once New Jersey won a U.S. Supreme Court case in 2018 clearing the way for any state to offer it legally, he has been alternating trips to Las Vegas with visits to Atlantic City casinos. On Thursday, he was with a group of friends at the Golden Nugget, where they had placed bets on 11 games as of an hour before the first contest tipped off.

His pick to win it all: Iowa State, which was listed at +2000 before its first game.

“I feel like a kid on Christmas Day,” he said. “You get 32 games of wall-to-wall basketball. You get to watch Cinderella teams make a run, you see buzzer-beaters, and you get the chance to make some money, too.”


Follow Wayne Parry on X, formerly Twitter, at www.twitter.com/WayneParryAC

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in