Into the Pool: NCAA Tourney Betting Booms

ByABC News
March 14, 2001, 1:51 PM

N E W   Y O R K, March 16 -- So you've filled out your NCAA tournament grid for the office pool. You're watching the games on TV and hoping for a payoff. There's just one catch.

You've probably broken the law, too.

Yes, it's time for that familiar springtime ritual again, as all across America, millions of people from college basketball diehards to others who don't know if George Mason is a person or a school take the time to fill out an NCAA tournament bracket, in hopes of making some quick cash and earning bragging rights among friends and co-workers.

But betting pools, however ubiquitous, are not legal. Gambling on college sports is against the law almost everywhere in the United States except for Nevada. (Vermont passed a law last year allowing limited betting on the NCAAs.)

And basketball pools are not limited to offices. Betting on the NCAA tournament is rampant on college campuses and the Web as well.

"It gives me more of a reason to watch the game with interest," says Al, a business student in New York who says he enters a pool almost every year and asked not to be identified by his full name.

"I see it as relatively harmless endeavor, a chance to make a large profit off a small investment," Al adds. "I have as good a chance of winning as anybody."

It all adds up to a colossal national gambling binge. Indeed, no one knows just how much money is wagered and perhaps diverted from the economy on brackets and the 63 games over the three-week tournament period.

"The common thing we hear is that it's in the billions, but it's impossible to know," says NCAA spokeswoman Jane Jankowski.

Almost All Sports Bets Are Off the Books

Most estimates place legal Nevada-based betting on the NCAA tournament in the range of $60 million to $70 million every year second only to the Super Bowl as a cash bonanza for Las Vegas bookmakers.

But the National Gambling Impact Study Commission, formed by President Clinton, released a 1999 report citing surveys showing that well over 90 percent of all sports betting nationwide takes place off the books.