Are March Madness brackets legal? NCAA Tournament 2024

Mar 14, 2024

March Madness is just around the corner, which for millions of fans in the U.S. means that it’s almost time to fill out a bracket. Once the seeding and teams have been announced on Selection Sunday, it’s time to create a bracket - or several - in hopes of constructing a perfect bracket or just earning more points than others in the pool. 

But is making a March Madness bracket legal? Here is all you need to know about March Madness brackets before the NCAA tournament starts.

Guide to making a March Madness bracket

There are 68 teams that will get a shot at being crowned National Champions. To make a March Madness bracket, you need to fill out and try to predict each game in every round of the tournament from the “First Four” down to the National Championship game. In total, 67 games will be played in March Madness. It sounds simple, but in a tournament famous for cinderella stories and shocking upsets, nobody has ever filled out a perfect March Madness bracket, according to the NCAA. 

If you’re interested in making a March Madness bracket, there are plenty of websites to use. Some of the most popular include ESPN, CBS, and Yahoo. To fill out the bracket, simply pick the team you think will win each game and how far they will go in the tournament. The rounds of the tournament that you will need to fill out are the First Four, Round of 64, Round of 32, Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight, Final Four, and the National Championship.

If you think it will be easy, think again. The NCAA estimates that a person filling out the bracket by guessing or flipping a coin has a 1 in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 chance of getting the entire bracket correct. However, if you have some college basketball knowledge, your chances increase to 1 in 120.2 billion (NCAA). 

Legality of March Madness brackets

March Madness brackets attract a wide range of people, from college basketball fanatics to casual fans to the person who knows nothing about basketball but wants to create a bracket. It’s estimated that 60 to 100 million brackets are filled out each year (Sports Illustrated). But creating a bracket does raise a question - is it legal? 

Yes, March Madness brackets are perfectly legal. It’s also free as ESPN, CBS, Yahoo, or whatever website you choose doesn’t require payment to fill out a bracket. That means you can create one, two, or several brackets at no cost. It’s very common to invite friends and family members to compete against each other in a group and see who can create the most accurate bracket.

However, creating a bracket challenge with friends, family, colleagues, or others that requires an entry fee and prize money is not legal. Technically, pools like that are illegal because of three elements: consideration, reward, and chance (Forbes). While it’s unlikely the state will find out about the pool or prosecute participants, it’s technically not legal and therefore carries some risk.

Are March Madness brackets a form of sports betting?

No, March Madness brackets are not a form of sports betting IF they are free (no entry fee). As long as you’re not wagering money on the games or your bracket, you are not sports betting.

However, many bracket pools do involve an entry fee - usually a small one - that goes into a prize pool awarded to the top entrant(s) who earn the most points. When brackets involve an entry fee, it does become a form of sports gambling. Any activity that requires risking money and making sports predictions in hopes of winning more money is a type of sports wagering, and therefore it carries risks. The rush of rooting for outcomes in games while hoping that they result in a monetary gain for you can lead to problem-gambling-related issues. 

Betting on March Madness

Along with creating a bracket, a lot of people will choose to bet on March Madness games. In fact, it’s estimated that roughly 1 in 5 individuals in the United States will bet on the NCAA Tournament (per UB Law). That ranges from “futures” bets before the tournament starts to spread, money line, and totals (over/under) bets on individual games during it. Last year, it was estimated that $15.5 billion was wagered on March Madness in the U.S. (Statista).

How to bet responsibly on the 2024 March Madness NCAA Tournament

With 68 teams, dozens of games and several rounds, it can be easy to get enveloped by the excitement and constant craziness of March Madness. The tournament lasts a few weeks and usually has many games each day, as the country’s top teams battle to advance to the next round. That means it’s important to bet responsibly on March Madness and not bet more money just because there are more games than usual to wager on.

Tips to bet responsibly during the tournament include:

  • only betting what you can afford to lose

  • setting a limit for how many games you will bet on each day or week

  • never chasing your losses

  • never gambling under the influence of drugs or alcohol

Remember, March Madness is nearly unpredictable and usually full of upsets. Don’t chase your losses and try to break even on the day because it’s a long tournament, and you need to manage your bankroll, which can be thought of as a betting budget. Plus, it’s already hard enough to try and predict the outcome of a game with a clear mind, so don’t make it harder on yourself by gambling under the influence of drugs or alcohol. 

Avoiding Gambling Addiction

Warning signs of Problem Gambling

It’s also important to know the warning signs of gambling addiction, in case betting becomes an issue for you or someone you know. While just as serious as any other addiction, a gambling problem can much be more difficult to spot, since there aren’t any physical signs of it. Some indications that could be noticed by a friend or family member include skipping social events to gamble, lying about gambling losses, asking for money to bet with, and even stealing to get money to wager.

There are plenty of other warning signs too, like trouble at work from gambling too much, not being able to pay bills due to gambling losses, spending more time at a casino, and others. A gambling addiction can cause mental and financial problems, so it's important to know the warning signs.

Gambling Addiction help and resources

If you or someone you know does develop a gambling disorder, there are specialized resources available to help. Birches Health offers online counseling that is 100% confidential and caters to your schedule. You don’t even need to leave the comfort of your home - the care sessions are completely virtual. Assessments are free, so if you or a loved one may be in need of help, Birches Health is a great starting point.

If you believe you or someone else could benefit from the Birches Health offerings, please call (833) 483-3838 or email hello@bircheshealth.com. 

Sources:

The absurd odds of a perfect NCAA bracket

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

The Legal Risk Of Operating NCAA Tournament Pools - Forbes

A QUESTION WE WISH WE WERE ASKING TODAY: ARE MARCH MADNESS BRACKETS LEGAL?

Total amount bet on March Madness US 2023 | Statista

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