“March Madness” or “The Big Dance” – whatever you may call it, one thing is undeniable: it’s a time like no other for the American sports fan. And everyone (and I mean everyone) has an opinion.
So what is March Madness?
Every spring, the NCAA – the National Collegiate Athletic Association – holds a basketball tournament to determine the winner of the national championship. Last year saw the North Carolina Tar Heels defeat the Gonzaga Bulldogs 71-65 in the final.
In total, 68 college basketball teams compete in March Madness, originally the idea of Ohio State University coach Harold Olsen. American sports fans are obsessed by it, and everyone in the country has an opinion based on hours of studying the stats or blind allegiance to their old college.
Obama vs Bush
Some guy called Barack Obama has tweeted: “Just because I have more time to watch games it doesn’t mean my picks will be better.” With that, the 44th President of the United States predicted that Michigan State would be this year’s champions. Not so fast, Mr President. George Bush Snr has “a feeling” that his Texas A&M Aggies “will go all the way”.
While the world waits with bated breath for the current occupant of the White House to make his predictions, millions of Americans are backing their opinions with hard cash.
Other than the Super Bowl, no other date in the US sports calendar is as big a betting event. Like the Grand National in the UK, people who never normally bet will have a stake in March Madness, even if it is only through a sweepstake in the office.
But writing this article from the UK, it does seem to highlight the illogicality of the gambling laws in the United States. How can it be legal to own a Kalashnikov in some states, but illegal to place a bet?
All roads lead to Vegas…
…at least for now. March Madness is undoubtedly one of the best times to be in Las Vegas, with people making annual pilgrimages for the opening weekend of the tournament. The sportsbooks on the Strip are overflowing, and at some books you even need to buy a ticket to get a seat.
By this time next year, however, far more states across the country may get to experience the excitement, with several states likely to have legalized betting on sports by March 2020.
New Jersey is home to Atlantic City, and following a recent court ruling it seems highly likely that it will soon be offering sports wagering. West Virginia could well see it introduced before the 2018/19 American football season, and Pennsylvania and Delaware seem likely to follow suit.
After that it becomes more complex. Several stats have sports betting legislation on the stature books, but questions remain over whether they will act on it in time for 2020. These include New York, Connecticut and Mississippi.
And then we come to the outsiders. Missouri, Rhode Island and Illinois look likely to be the next states to move towards legalising sports betting, meaning that by the time March Madness rolls around in 2020 Americans should be able to bet legally – outside the office sweepstake – in a few more states.
But for now, we need to send our thoughts and prayers to the 41st President. Locked in competition with Obama, George Bush Snr will see his beloved Texas A&M Aggies tip off against the Providence Friars later today.
And there’s good news for Bush 41 from the sportsbooks: the Aggies opened as the 3.5 point favorite for the game.