It’s anticipated that 68 million Americans will wager approximately $15.5 billion this month on teams competing for college basketball’s national championship, the American Gaming Association says. (AP photo)

By: Journal Record

While it might not be wise to risk money on the outcome of a bill pending in the Oklahoma Legislature to legalize sports betting in the state, a sure wager would be on prospects for college basketball making this month a blockbuster for sports betting nationwide.

March – which annually brings the March Madness NCAA basketball tournament and its power to convert casual fans into passionate ones – is a major month for sports betting. According to the American Gaming Association, it’s anticipated that 68 million Americans will wager approximately $15.5 billion on teams competing for college basketball’s national championship. That’s more people overall than those who placed bets on the outcome of last month’s Super Bowl, but the biggest game of the NFL’s season attracted about half a billion dollars more in wagers, the AGA estimated.

AGA President and CEO Bill Miller said the evolution of wagering online and the legalization of sports betting in many states have drawn millions of new bettors. Some 31 million American adults will likely place bets online during the NCAA tournament, while 56.3 million will participate in a bracket contest and 21.5 million are expected to place bets between friends.

“March Madness is one of the best traditions in American sports – and America’s most wagered-on competition,” Miller said. “Critically, the expansion of regulated sports betting over the past five years has brought safeguards to more than half of American adults who can now bet legally in their home market.”

Sports betting legislation in Oklahoma

Currently, Oklahoma is one of only about a dozen states where sports betting remains illegal. An effort to change that failed in 2022, but state Rep. Ken Luttrell, R-Ponca City, the lawmaker who backed legalization then, has reauthored legislation this year. His House Bill 1027 recently passed through the House Committee on Appropriations and Budget and could eventually be considered for passage in the House and Senate. Gov. Kevin Stitt has said that he’s generally in favor of legalizing sports betting if details can be worked out favorable to the state.

As it’s written now, HB 1027 would allow tribal nations, which hold exclusive rights to commercial gaming in the state, to add sports betting onto existing compacts. Tribes that want to participate could partner with larger online sports betting platforms or set up their own platforms and sportsbooks. They would have the option of limiting betting to tribal land or opening it to mobile devices.

So far, state officials and tribal leaders haven’t agreed on key details, such as what percentage of sports betting revenue would be forwarded in monthly fees to the state. But Luttrell has said that he hopes the state eventually will be able to cash in on millions of dollars in revenues that, currently, only other states are reaping.

Thirty-three states and Washington, D.C., allow for live, legal sports betting markets. Since last year’s NCAA tournament, Kansas, Massachusetts and Ohio have launched retail and mobile sports betting markets, while Maryland has launched mobile wagering.

The AGA said that three-fourths of online bettors surveyed recently said they were planning to place bets online for the first-time during March Madness.

Notably, this year’s March Madness – with 67 games played over three weeks – will be the first to feature Las Vegas as a regional host location.

“With the excitement around March Madness, the AGA and our members want to remind anyone getting in on the action to have a game plan to bet responsibly,” Miller said. “That means setting a budget, knowing the odds, keeping it social, and always playing legally.”