March Madness Brackets: Gateway to Gambling Addiction?

Mar 18, 2024

It’s the most anticipated time of year for college basketball fans. March Madness takes center stage in the sports world this month as 68 teams fight to be crowned National Champions. One of the most common activities for fans during the tournament is creating a bracket and trying to fill out a perfect bracket or just earn more points than the other entrants. However, there could be a dark side to March Madness brackets for some people, as it could potentially be the starting point down a path toward gambling addiction.

What are March Madness brackets? 

A March Madness bracket includes filling out the entire tournament and attempting to predict the exact outcome of each round. It starts with the First Four, and after that, it’s the Round of 64, Round of 32, Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight, Final Four, and finally the National Championship. Filling out a bracket is a way for people to have a rooting interest in each game and to cheer for certain teams to advance to the final rounds. 

It’s estimated that 60 to 100 million brackets are filled out each year (Sports Illustrated). However, according to the NCAA, there has never been a perfect bracket. Some people have gotten close, but due to the unpredictable nature of March Madness, it’s nearly impossible to create the perfect bracket. In fact, your odds are 1 in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 if you are guessing while creating a bracket, and 1 in 120.2 billion if you know a little about college basketball (per the NCAA).

Are they legal?

Yes, March Madness brackets are legal if they are free. After Selection Sunday, websites like ESPN, CBS, and Yahoo will offer people the chance to make one, two, or several brackets, free of charge. However, it’s not legal to run your own March Madness bracket pool and require an entry fee with prize money. Instead, it’s a better decision to stick to free options and avoid pay-to-play pools.

Can March Madness brackets lead to Gambling Addiction?

March is known for March Madness, but it’s also national Problem Gambling Awareness Month. In 2023, 56.5 million Americans were estimated to have made a March Madness bracket. That was a huge increase from the 36.5 million Americans in 2022, so the interest in creating a bracket appears to be on the rise again (Statista). Participation ranges from people who are college basketball fanatics to those who don’t know anything about the sport but just want to make a bracket. 

There is a dark side to March Madness brackets that is not discussed enough. Since creating a bracket is completely free, people can get a taste of what it’s like to have a rooting interest in a sporting event. That’s when people can experience the excitement of March Madness and the feeling of winning, whether it’s for financial gain or not. However, that feeling of excitement is something that a lot of people chase after the tournament. That can lead to betting money on games in other sports and leagues to feel the thrill of victorious predictions again.

One person who is trying to get the message out is Central Michigan University professor Tim Otteman, who has said, "No one ends up with a sports gambling problem without making his or her first bet—and frequently that first wager is filling out an NCAA tournament bracket” (US News). Otteman explains that people don’t understand the danger a March Madness bracket could cause for some, and he went on to say that creating a bracket "may serve as a gateway to participation in more expensive and dangerous forms of sports gambling" (US News).

Just because a March Madness bracket can be free to make doesn’t mean it doesn’t come with a cost. A gambling addiction is a serious issue that can at times be a result of creating a bracket and then opening a sportsbook account to chase the feeling of excitement from rooting and winning. Otteman finishes by saying, "But we owe it to people — especially kids — to warn them that it could lead you down the wrong path” (US News).

Avoiding Gambling Addiction

Problem Gambling warning signs

Gambling addiction rates are on the rise across the country as more states legalize sports betting. In just the last year, several states have legalized sports gambling in some form, which means there will be many more people with easy access to legally betting on the tournament this year. Yet, some people forget that one wager can lead down the path to a gambling addiction. Since the tournament is upon us, it’s important to remember what some of the warning signs are for a gambling addiction.

A few of the most common warning signs include being obsessed with talking about or making plans to gamble, skipping time with friends or family to bet, or neglecting daily tasks to place wagers instead. These signs could be noticed by friends or family, and it’s important to recognize them and get the person help immediately.

However, not every warning sign is easy to spot. Some warning signs that are more subtle and hard to spot include lying about gambling, hiding gambling debts, and problems at work resulting from gambling. While some warning signs are easier to spot, every sign is just as important.

Help and resources for Gambling Addiction 

A gambling addiction can cause problems for you, in a relationship, within family, or at work. It can cause financial and mental issues that could necessitate professional help to overcome. One organization that is leading the charge against gambling addiction is Birches Health, which prides itself on offering specialized care options. With a team of trained professionals, 100% confidential meetings, and a $0 out-of-pocket cost for many patients, Birches Health is an option to be aware of in case of encountering someone who may be struggling with a gambling disorder. 

Sources:

Has Anyone Ever Had a Perfect March Madness Bracket? - Sports Illustrated

The absurd odds of a perfect NCAA bracket

Number of bettors filling out a March Madness bracket US 2023 | Statista

NCAA March Madness Can Cause Lifetime Gambling Problems

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