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Tournament Time

23 March 2006

The first two rounds of the NCAA college basketball championship tournament were completed last week, whittling the field of competitors from 64 teams to 16. Although the managers of online sports books are typically reluctant to share any concrete betting numbers, they are sticking to the story they told in the days leading up to the tournament: that March Madness represents the largest betting event of the year in North America, trumping even the Super Bowl.

The tournament begins on a Thursday every year, but the Madness truly begins on the preceding Sunday, which is commonly referred to as Selection Sunday. This is the day when the last of the NCAA's various Division 1 conferences hold the championship games of their tournaments. Once these final games have been decided, the NCAA's tournament selection board adjourns for a few hours to rank the nation's top teams and place them into the tournament bracket according to their rank, rewarding the top-ranked teams by giving them weak opponents in the opening rounds.

With the field of competitors set by the evening of Selection Sunday, millions of fans across America attempt to correctly predict not just the outcome of the first round of 32 games, but of every single one of the 63 games all the way up to the championship. This is extremely difficult because a bracket can be completely destroyed if teams picked to advance far in the tournament go down in early rounds.

The bracket competition is of course one of the signature staples of March Madness. All over the country informal office pools are established, with each participant filling out his predictions and submitting them along with an entry fee to the office pool manager. Points are awarded for each correct prediction, and correct predictions of later round games are rewarded with more points than earlier round games. A poll conducted by research firm Harris Interactive estimates that 21 percent of all adult Americans have participated in an NCAA bracket competition at some point in their lives.

Online sites such as Yahoo! and ESPN.com also help provide bracket competitions, but entry fees are not required and there is, therefore, no payout to the victor. Fans can use these services to create private competitions and invite their friends to play or they can participate in massive public competitions with thousands of players.

Brackets have become a common feature for online gambling sites as well. Many sites, such as Sportsbetting.com, PlayersOnly.com, BetGameDay.com and BetJamaica.com, offered bracket competitions for free to their registered users this year, offering prizes like Plasma TVs, Laptops and cash to winners. Other sites charged a small fee for pool entry and will deliver proportionate prizes to winners.

Though it may be the most exciting wagering opportunity for NCAA post-season betting, the bracket competition is hardly the only betting proposition available for the 63-game tournament. Not only are the standard offerings of point spreads, money lines and over/unders available for each individual game, but the structure of the tournament lends itself to a number of creative propositions that the offshore books are more than eager to provide.

Futures propositions on who would be the overall champion of the tournament appeared on nearly every betting site. Prior to the start of the tournament, odds on Pinnaclesports.com ranged from about 2.5-1 for the top-seeded favorite University of Connecticut all the way down to 250-1 for some of the lowest seeded teams. Pinnaclesports also offered propositions such as, "Which of these two teams will proceed further in the tournament?" and, "Which team will win this particular region of the bracket?'

The first round of games began this year on March 16, when most of the die-hard fans who couldn't take the day off of work were either watching the game via a live Web stream on CBS.Sportsline.com or monitoring the scores via Yahoo! or ESPN's real-time update applications. Fans follow the games with such enthusiasm that estimates place the loss to American companies in terms of wages and productivity to be around the neighborhood of $4 billion.

"You would think it was a weekend or a holiday with the increase in signups today," said Blake Wetherspoon, marketing manager for VIPsports.com. "These guys must be glued to these games at work, or they take the day off to watch them. It would be great to have sports action like this all day every day."

Finding precise betting figures for the North American offshore betting industry is always a difficult task. The companies that are not publicly listed have no obligation to share information and typically do not desire to. On the other hand, those that are publicly listed may not share their information due to insider trading regulations.

One indicator of the amount of betting surrounding the tournament comes from PinnacleSports.com. According to a press release distributed before the tournament began, "Of the estimated $3.5 to $4 billion wagered on last year's NCAA tournament worldwide, industry experts predicted at least one third of that total was bet online. . . . PinnacleSports.com expects betting on the NCAA tournament to dwarf that of this year's Super Bowl. . . ."

The release also stated, "While the 182 sports books in Nevada are expected to take approximately $90 million in 'March Madness' bets, estimates indicate that online bookmakers as a whole will record nearly $1.3 billion in NCAA tournament wagers. Even more impressive is that the $1.3 billion represents more than double the estimated $600 million wagered online on this year's Super Bowl."

One week into the tournament, the predicted surge in betting numbers has been verified by VIP's Wetherspoon, who says his company has seen an increase in sports betting of almost 70 percent compared to last year's tournament.

"Player interest has been strong, and new signups remain steady throughout the tournament," Wetherspoon said. "As you can imagine, if you've seen all the upsets, the tournament has been good to the house so far. We are not complaining, of course."

He added, "March madness is historically among the busiest three weeks in North American sports betting, and this year's tournament has been no different."

Tournament Time is republished from iGamingNews.com.
Bradley Vallerius

Bradley P. Vallerius, JD manages For the Bettor Good, a comprehensive resource for information related to Internet gaming policy in the U.S. federal and state governments. For the Bettor Good provides official government documents, jurisdiction updates, policy analysis, and many other helpful research materials.

Bradley has been researching and writing about the business and law of internet gaming since 2003. His work has covered all aspects of the industry, including technology, finance, advertising, taxation, poker, betting exchanges, and laws and regulations around the world.

Bradley Vallerius Websites:

www.FortheBettorGood.com
Bradley Vallerius
Bradley P. Vallerius, JD manages For the Bettor Good, a comprehensive resource for information related to Internet gaming policy in the U.S. federal and state governments. For the Bettor Good provides official government documents, jurisdiction updates, policy analysis, and many other helpful research materials.

Bradley has been researching and writing about the business and law of internet gaming since 2003. His work has covered all aspects of the industry, including technology, finance, advertising, taxation, poker, betting exchanges, and laws and regulations around the world.

Bradley Vallerius Websites:

www.FortheBettorGood.com