NCAA Tournament Sparks Record-Setting March for Nevada Sportsbooks

The buzz generated by college basketball during March Madness, and specifically the championship-crowning tournament which caps the season, fueled a record-setting month for Nevada sportsbooks.

According to data released in late April by the Nevada Gaming Control Board (NGCB), the state’s casinos accepted $458 million in wagers on sports in March – setting an all-time high for the month.

Of that sum, bettors placed $422.2 million in wagers on basketball, once again making history by setting a state record for a monthly hoops handle. This figure shattered the previous benchmark for basketball betting of $375.5 million, which was set just last year.

Although the agency doesn’t differentiate between NCAA and NBA betting when compiling its monthly Revenues and Collections report, the NGCB estimates that 70 percent of the historic handle represented wagers on the Division I Men’s Basketball Championship Tournament.

With a field comprised of the consensus top 68 teams in the nation, the NCAA tournament featured 67 games between March 15 and April 4, as the Villanova Wildcats emerged unbeaten to earn the title. Traditionally, the NCAA tournament fuels an annual boom in recreational gambling, as even the most casual of basketball fans takes time to fill out their bracket and place a few bets.

The increasing popularity of March Madness betting season has been consistently demonstrated during the last four years. According to yearly data published by the NGCB, in March of 2013 sportsbooks in the state accepted $324.3 million in basketball wagers. By last year, the basketball handle for March had grown by $50 million to approximately $375 million, before another $50 million increase occurred in 2016.

Non-basketball betting paled in comparison, and according to the NCGB, the group of “other sports” – which comprises boxing, golf, hockey, MMA, racing, soccer, and tennis – accounted for a total win of just $889,000, while Major League Baseball’s Spring Training season produced a hold of $210,000.

Overall, sportsbook operations in Nevada are enjoying a prolonged trend of historically positive numbers. The total sports betting handle of $363 million recorded in February set yet another monthly record, coming on the heels of a $450-million January which also established a new high. In 2015 the total sports betting handle eclipsed $4.2 billion, once again reaching a historic high point.

Despite long lines of bettors packing the crowded sportsbooks throughout March, Nevada actually experienced a reduction in its crucial hold, or win percentage, rate. According to the NCGB’s report, the state’s sportsbooks won a little more than $21.5 million on the record-setting $422.2 million in March basketball bets. This hold rate of 5.1 percent represented a drastic dip from last year, when Nevada sportsbooks won $27.9 million on basketball bets in March, based on a hold of 7.44 percent – an all-time high for the month.

When the settlement of outstanding football tickets was factored in – casinos paid out approximately $13 million – the total hold for March dropped even further, leaving a win of $9.7 million. This sharp decrease from the $18.5 million win recorded in March of 2015 suggests that “public” betting on favorites performed above expectation during the most recent NCAA tournament.