There is no more socially acceptable form of gambling on sports than filling out a March Madness bracket. For many Americans, picking 63 winners in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament was their introduction to sports betting, and few thought twice about the legality of risking $5 on picking which teams would advance.
In 2019, sports betting legality and March Madness are about to collide in all new ways. When the tournament tips off next Thursday, March 21 (or earlier, if you count the play-in games), regulated sports betting will be available in seven states in which it wasn’t available last year.
So far, New Jersey is the only one of those states making maximal use of mobile wagering technology. There are 13 online sportsbooks available in the Garden State, competing for deposits and attention, and a few of them have started announcing their March Madness promotions.
With the understanding that they’re all still finalizing plans (and that we’re still several days from Selection Sunday), here’s what three prominent online sportsbooks have in store so far:
DK will, of course, have all of its usual daily fantasy offerings nationwide and all of the expected game-by-game betting available to New Jerseyans at DK Sportsbook. On top of that, though, there are brackets galore.
It starts with two “headline contests”: a free-to-enter bracket with $64,000 in prizes for customers in states with or without legal sports betting, and a $20 buy-in contest in NJ with $100k in prizes and a much smaller field of opponents to beat. The former will pay $5,000 to first place, the latter $20,000.
There will be other public bracket contests, and users can create their own private games and invite their friends, with the option to start new tournaments in the Round of 32 or the Sweet 16.
There is a complication, however. New Jersey sportsbooks can’t legally offer betting on games involving in-state universities, and on Tuesday night, Fairleigh Dickinson punched its ticket to the tournament (and it’s possible that other teams from the state will join FDU). NJ Online Gambling reached out to DraftKings for clarification, and a representative explained that in a pay-to-enter bracket, users can not pick New Jersey-based teams to advance, effectively rendering any game involving a home-state team irrelevant to the scoring.
DK will have other deals and promos in place next week, including a “Refer-a-Friend” program whereby new signups and the existing customers who recommend them will each get $50 in free bets for the NCAA tourney.
DK rival FanDuel Sportsbook is also running a free nation-wide bracket contest, and FD is offering a considerably higher prize pool: $250k. (It should be noted, however, that this isn’t the biggest March Madness freeroll out there, as Yahoo is giving out a million bucks to the best bracket.)
FanDuel hasn’t made any announcements yet about NJ-only pay-to-play brackets.
The sportsbook has announced a couple of promotions, though, and they’re already underway. First is the “Conference Tourney Bonus.” If you bet at least $10 on each of five or more conference tournament games, you get $10 in site credit.
And the other is the “Bandwagon Bonus.” If you place a futures bet of at least $25 on a team to win the NCAA tournament, you get $5 for every tournament game your team wins along the way. So, for example, is you think Virginia is a decent bet to win the title at the current +700 odds, you can turn your $25 into $200 + $30 if they win it all, or get some portion of your $25 back if they at least go a few rounds deep. (You’re out of luck if they repeat last year’s historic feat, however.)
A relative new kid on the block, PointsBet Sportsbook will be shaking things up with its typical aggressive pricing and occasional use of no-juice spreadlines. PB doesn’t have any bracket contests planned as of yet, but the sportsbook does have its share of special promos.
There’s the “Make It Rain” promotion, which is available not just in the March Madness tournament, but also during this week’s Big 10, ACC, and Pac 12 tourneys. If you place a fixed-odds spread bet on a game for at least $100, you’ll get a $3 bonus for every three-pointer made in the game by your team. (If you’re curious about the expected value of this promotion, know that the average Division I team sinks about eight three-pointers per game.)
PointsBet is also offering “Parlay Insurance,” which has become fairly standard in the industry. If a bettor parlays four or more legs on March Madness games and exactly three of the four legs lose, the bet is refunded (in the form of bonus bets) up to $100. There’s a maximum of one parlay refund per bettor per day.
If you’ve never tried “PointsBetting,” where it matters not just whether the bet wins or loses but how many points it wins or loses by, March Madness is a good time to dabble. If your first PointsBetting bet on a tournament game loses, you get a refund up to $500.
And lastly, PB is offering a promotion called “Cinderella Heartbreak.” If you place a fixed-odds moneyline bet on a team seeded 10-16 playing against a higher-seeded team and your underdog loses by 3 or fewer points, the bet is refunded up to $100.