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Adding to the Madness: The Economic Impact of Legal Sports Betting After Murphy

March Madness is here.  The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, referred to as the “Big Dance,” is unlike any other tournament, with 68 teams narrowing down to one champion in a matter of three weekends.  This year’s tournament promises to bring excitement and passion similar to years past, with the additional excitement of more legal gambling.1  In addition to the average office pool or bracket pool with friends, sports betting administered by casinos, sportsbooks, and online applications is now legal following a recent Supreme Court decision.2  Murphy v. NCAA, decided last year, expanded legal sports gambling to more states.3  The Court’s decision effectively adds more legal avenues to gamble on a sporting event – the Big Dance – that is already one of the most wagered sporting events in the world.4  This year’s NCAA Tournament is the first tournament following the decision in Murphy, and it is sure to have an economic impact throughout the country.5

The Case

In Murphy, the Court found provisions of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) unconstitutional in violation of the anticommandeering doctrine.6  PASPA was passed in 1992 with the objective of stopping the spread of professional and amateur sports betting in the United States, making it unlawful for a state to sponsor or authorize gambling.7

The decision was the result of a long legal battle that began in 2014 when New Jersey enacted a law repealing state-law provisions that prohibited certain forms of sports gambling.8 The Supreme Court granted certiorari in June 2017, and Justice Alito delivered the opinion of the Court on May 14, 2018 in favor of New Jersey.  The Court held that the PASPA provision at issue, which prohibits state authorization of sports gambling, violates the anticommandeering doctrine.9  PASPA dictates what a state legislature may and may not do, “as if federal officers were installed in state legislative chambers and were armed with the authority to stop legislators from voting on any offending proposals.”10  Therefore, PASPA was held unconstitutional and the floodgates to legal sports betting were opened.

Economic Impact

What does that mean for the economic impact of the tournament? Simply put: more revenue for many parties. Despite the corporate loss expected by companies due to distracted employees, the Big Dance brings in millions in revenue for host cities, sportsbooks, and television networks.11  WalletHub estimated the amount wagered for last year’s tournament at $10 Billion, with about $9.7 Billion of that wagered illegally.12  Based on the $300 Million of legal gambling, which used to be limited to Nevada, Las Vegas casinos and sportsbooks made an estimated $100 Million in profit.13 Given the amount of games and duration of the tournament, the money wagered on March Madness doubles the amount of money wagered on the Super Bowl.14

March Madness betting is now legal in eight states: Delaware, Mississippi, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and West Virginia.15  Each state offers betting options through several sportsbooks and a few states offer legal betting online or through a mobile application.16  This year’s tournament will be the first since Murphy was decided, and it is expected to increase the amount of wagered money.17  According to Bill Miller, the President and CEO of the American Gaming Association, sports fans are expected to bet 40% more than they did on this year’s Super Bowl.”18  The tournament will conclude on April 8, so the final numbers are not yet determined. Based on the early numbers, the American Gaming Association estimates around $8.5 billion will be wagered on the NCAA Tournament, with nearly 1-in-5 adults in the United States betting on the tournament in some manner.19  About half of that money will be wagered at a sportsbook or through a bookie, while the other half will come from bracket pools.20

Sports betting is legal in more states following the decision in Murphy, and this year’s NCAA Tournament is expected to bring in more revenue for sportsbooks and casinos. The NCAA, which has consistently fought the spread of sports betting, is being forced to adjust their policies to acknowledge the spread of legal gambling.21

  1. See Adam Candee, Legal March Madness Betting in the United States is Here, Legal Sports Report (Mar. 22, 2019), 

  2. Id. 

  3. See Murphy v. NCAA, 138 S. Ct. 1461 (2018).  

  4. See The Sporting Events with the Biggest Betting Volume, Sports Betting Dime (Feb. 5, 2019), 

  5. See Jamie Turner, The Economic Impact of March Madness and the Final Four, 60 Second Marketer (Apr. 3, 2018), 

  6. See Murphy, 138 S. Ct. at 1481. 

  7. Id. at 1465; see also Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act – PASPA, Online Gambling Sites (2018), 

  8. See Murphy, 138 S. Ct. at 1467. 

  9. Id. at 1478. 

  10. Id. at 1478. 

  11. See John S. Kiernan, 2019 March Madness Stats & Facts, WalletHub (Mar. 13, 2019), 

  12. Id. 

  13. Id. 

  14. Id. 

  15. See Candee, supra note 1. 

  16. See Josh Appelbaum, Where to Place Legal Sports Bets on the 2019 NCAA Tournament, Action Network (Mar. 18, 2019), 

  17. See Candee, supra note 1. 

  18. Jay Ginsbach, Sports Betting Explodes During March Madness, and AGA Estimates $8.5 Billion Bet on NCAA Tournament, Forbes (Mar. 19, 2019), 

  19. Id

  20. Id. 

  21. See Ben Nuckols, NCAA Can’t Keep Tournament Games Away from Legal Gambling, Associated Press (Mar. 19, 2019),