Massachusetts bettors could wager more than $120 million on college basketball’s biggest event, according to PlayMA March Madness projections.
The Massachusetts online sports betting market launched just in time for the biggest annual event on the sports betting calendar. The Division I men’s NCAA Tournament kicks into high gear on Thursday.
Six sportsbook operators went live last week after the state’s three casinos opened sportsbooks on Jan. 31. Despite Massachusetts not being represented in the field of 68 teams, residents across the state can bet March Madness games through the Final Four next month in Houston.
PlayMA reached this March Madness projection by comparing similar markets during the launch phase, survey data and national betting patterns observed around big events, such as the NCAA Tournament and the Super Bowl.
March Madness betting without local teams
For the third consecutive tournament, Massachusetts does not have a team represented in the Big Dance.
Despite Massachusetts’ continued absence, the appetite for March Madness betting will be as strong among Bay Staters as in the rest of the country. At 67 games strong, March Madness easily dwarfs the Super Bowl in betting action.
Pre-launch, MA lawmakers and regulators spent many hours debating the merits of betting on college sports. They had to balance the popularity of events like March Madness with the potential for match-fixing scandals among financially vulnerable college athletes.
Eventually, lawmakers prohibited wagering on Massachusetts college teams unless they were in a multi-team tournament, such as March Madness. Ironically, MA sports bettors have little use for that loophole this NCAA Tournament season.
However, the men won’t have the stage to themselves this March. On the women’s side, which is not included in the PlayMA projections, Holy Cross made the NCAA Tournament as a 15-seed and will play No. 2 Maryland in the first round on Friday.
Calculating Massachusetts online sports betting estimates
PlayMA, and other industry experts, estimated that March Madness handle is about 2 1/2 times a state’s Super Bowl handle. That assumption has played out in comparable markets.
Based on handle breakdowns in comparable markets, Arizona’s March Madness handle is estimated to have fallen between $138.2 million and $172.8 million in March 2022.
Further, PlayMA estimated Arizona’s 2022 Super Bowl handle to be $39.4 million. That is 3 1/2 times less than our low estimate of Arizona’s March Madness handle, making PlayMA’s Massachusetts estimated leap from Super Bowl to March Madness conservative.
A conservative estimation is appropriate because Massachusetts will have a shorter ramp-up time. Arizona online sports betting launched in September 2021, six months before March Madness. Massachusetts launched online sports betting less than a week before the first NCAA Tournament game.
Judging industry betting activity projections
Handle estimates are their own source of headlines around March Madness. For example, the American Gaming Association announced its survey result that Americans will wager $15.5 billion on March Madness across 68 million Americans.
However, that figure includes bracket pools in addition to sportsbook activity. So it’s an unhelpful guide to sports betting handle at legal sportsbooks, even with state-by-state breakdowns.
Historical data and other trends in other markets are better guides.
The factor that could derail this estimate the most is the short time between online sportsbook launches and March Madness. However, retail sportsbooks were also live a month earlier and had been advertising leading up to and after the retail launch.
A recent PlayMA survey found that about 81% of Massachusetts sports fans knew that online sports betting’s launch would be on March 10. The state’s new sportsbooks reached sports fans interested in betting. That awareness could translate into customers who flock to new sportsbook apps and bet enthusiastically.
Whatever the final handle number turns out, March Madness promises to be a significant customer acquisition time that will set Massachusetts sportsbooks up for strong performances in the fall when sports seasons ramp back up. These March Madness weeks will be critical for Massachusetts’ online sportsbooks.