March Madness Is Here, But Only Some States Allow Betting On In-State College Teams

Posted By Brant James on March 15, 2021 - Last Updated on March 16, 2021

Somewhere in Illinois, Virginia, or a variety of other states, a proud alum of the home-state university will thumb into their app of choice and scroll to the lines and prop bets under the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament tab.

 The Illini or Hokies qualified for the nation’s pre-eminent productivity drainer, and sports betting – which is now a legal reality in their state – sounds like an interesting and perhaps lucrative alternative to the office pool. Might as well get paid for cheering the alma mater a national championship, after all. Or so the thinking goes.

Scrolling.

There’s the right region.

No lines.

Then confusion.

It could very likely play out this week in the second round of the Midwest Region if top-seeded Illinois and No. 8 Loyola-Chicago justify their seedings and set up a matchup certain to cause consternation back home.

The dabblers might just give up and enter that ESPN pool they were invited into by Chuck in the now-virtual sales department. Those slightly more serious about it probably have known all along that their state was among the dozen that currently disallow wagering on in-state colleges while within their borders.

But if they really want to make that bet, they’ll unfortunately join the regular bettors in patronizing the offshore websites that the legalization of sports betting in their state was supposed to drive out.

Whether state laws were written to exclude potentially lucrative markets on local teams comes down to individual agendas, a desire to insulate student athletes from corruption or make the idea of legalizing sports betting more palatable to a fickle constituency.

But with soon-to-be highly seeded and rabidly supported NCAA-qualifiers peppered all over the states that sanction legal sports betting in the United States – and with March Madness sports betting going full blast in many markets for the first time in the COVID era – the results should be fascinating.

American Gaming Association Senior Vice President of Strategic Communications Casey Clark told PlayUSA the scenario would “100 percent” send the unwitting and unconcerned about legality to offshore websites.

“I think any time we get in the way of creating a viable, competitive legal marketplace, consumers will continue to go the path of least resistance,” he said.

Which states don’t allow betting on in-state college teams

Sports betting is legal and underway in 21 states or jurisdictions. Betting on local colleges is not allowed in 13 of them. They are:

  • Arkansas
  • Delaware
  • Illinois
  • Mississippi
  • Montana
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • Oregon
  • Rhode Island
  • Virginia
  • Washington, D.C.

(Prop bets are not allowed in Indiana, Iowa and Michigan)

Sixteen of the 68 teams projected to qualify for the NCAA Tournament are located in states with legal sports betting. Five of those come from Virginia, which launched VA mobile sports betting at the beginning of the year, and four from New York.

 Illinois – home of Midwest top seed Illini and Loyola-Chicago – and Oregon – homeland for the Ducks and Oregon State- also have two. The Illinois vs. Loyola-Chicago pairing would seemingly be of interest and a source of revenue in a state where a record $581.6 million was wagered in January, placing the state fifth nationally in handle this year. Some of that business could legally go to a neighboring state like Iowa or Illinois.

Rutgers and Seton Hall bets are off in New Jersey

That New Jersey, the post-PASPA center of American sports betting commerce, doesn’t allow wagering on its local schools seems surprises. The state has allowed betting on eSports, the Oscars and other awards shows. But the college concession helped pro-sports betting politicians build the case and the policy for legalization among constituents in a 2011 voter referendum seven years before the Supreme Court nullified the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. The provision is minted in the state constitution:

“Wagering shall not be permitted on a college sport or athletic event that takes place in New Jersey or on a sport or athletic event in which any New Jersey college team participates regardless of where the event takes place.”

It didn’t seem like much of a concession at the time, said former governor and legal sports betting founding father Chris Christie.

God love Princeton, but I don’t think people are dying to bet on Ivy League football or basketball,” he quipped at the 2019 Global Gaming Expo, adding, “The people are not beating down the doors to bet on Rutgers or Seton Hall, which is essentially our only two major universities in sports.”

More may care with Rutgers a projected nine seed and Seton Hall on the cusp as their programs continue a concurrent renaissance. But if New Jersey bettors, or, more likely fans, wanted to bet that badly and that legally, Pennsylvania and its full mobile sports betting market beckons over the Delaware River. There has been momentum to change the law. The NCAA East Regional will be held in New Jersey in 2025 and college games played within the state are also not allowed.

With New Jersey the model for many states considering legalizing sports betting, the college law was easy to follow. Clark is certain the best was to assuage concerns such as integrity and protecting student-athletes – a prime motivator – is to open the market fully.

“I think that the only way to offer protections to vulnerable consumers, to vulnerable athletes is to put all of that activity in a place that’s where it’s visible to well-trained, focused gaming regulators, 4,000 people around the country do nothing every day, except for pay attention to gaming activity and make sure it’s happening in a safe environment,” Clark said. “I think that the only way to protect the integrity of competition, to protect the athletes and to protect those consumers who are betting on it is to ensure that that’s happening within the framework of legal regulation.”

Christie said the New Jersey law wasn’t a mistake because it fit the state at the time, adding in 2019, “I don’t regret it. If it were repealed, I wouldn’t stamp my feet and jump up and down. But I do think though, in other states it’s not workable.

“If you can’t bet on Michigan or Michigan State sports, that’s a big problem inside Michigan. And I think there’s much more demand for it than there is to bet on Rutgers right now.”

Michigan app store mystery could cause confusion

Michiganders are free to back their fandom with dollars. But even still, confusion could abound this year for neophytes. Although legal sports betting in Michigan launched last March, COVID-19 shut down American sports within days, meaning this will be the first NCAA Tournament available for the serious and the curious. 

Multiple apps in the Google Play Store labeled as for BetMGM were actually affiliated with offshore bookmaker MyBookie, as reported by PlayMichigan. They were being pulled two days later, but at least one remained. It’s unclear whether there are impostors of other legal outlets.

The creates a concrete example for a cautionary tale New Jersey Gaming Enforcement director David Rebuck has made for years, that the pervasiveness of offshore websites’ reach makes easier prey of uninformed or uninitiated new sports bettors around major American sporting events like the Super Bowl or Final Four.

Rebuck believes that most potential bettors wish to do so legally, but at a seminar hosted by GeoComply in December, he included mainstream media as newfound prey for offshore sites because of lack of diligence and the aggressiveness of internet shilling.

“They’re embedded into the Internet systems,” he said. “You can search any day, ‘Is there really a bet out there on tonight’s game on the Eagles and the Giants?” and ‘What’s the odds?’ And instead of going to a legal site, they just go online and boom it says Bovada has it at this and they go Bovada.”

Bettor Safe, a safe gambling program launched by Conscious Gaming, is rolling out a television, radio and digital advertising program in New Jersey and Pennsylvania to “empower residents to understand the risks of illegal online betting,” according to a press release before the commencement of the NCAA Tournament.

According to a survey conducted by Conscious Gaming on behalf of the Bettor Safe campaign, around 75% adults in New Jersey and Pennsylvania who have bet online say they will or will consider placing an online sports bet during the NCAA basketball tournament. But more starkly, the same survey contends that 75% of these residents say they cannot or are not sure if they could differentiate a legal betting site from an illegal website.

March Mayhem Special Offer: 100:1 on the Final 4 & Championship Game

Sports betting holiday returns with March Madness

The NCAA Tournament is the largest sports betting market in the United States, eclipsing the Super Bowl in handle because of its length, inclusion of numerous schools and states, and bettors’ taste for parlays.

The cancellation last spring was one of the first in a series of brutal volleys for sportsbooks, and the importance of it was underscored in William Hill’s launch in Tennessee on March 11.

In a press release lauding the approval of the fifth operator in the Tennessee sports betting market, Kenneth Fuchs, president of digital for William Hill US noted “We will have thousands of markets available, including for your local favorites, live in-game betting, and daily promotions and bonuses for players.”  

The press release goes on to ask, “Will any teams from Tennessee bring home a championship trophy? Tennessee sports fans can get in on the potential celebration by betting on them to do so at William Hill.”

Seven states where sports betting is legal have not yet experienced an NCAA Tournament, including Colorado, Illinois (sixth in national population), Michigan (tenth) and Virginia.

In 2019, the American Gaming Association asserted that 47 million American adults would wager $8.5 billion on the 2019 tournament. The group did not make a projection last season as the season crumbled during conference tournaments and the NCAA announced the cancellation of March Madness on the 13th.

This season, the AGA predicts a further erosion of the office pool because of legal sports betting. The question remains where those bettors turn when, or if, learn they can’t bet on their local colleges in March.

In states where betting on local college teams is banned, pertinent games will simply not appear on DraftKings, said the company’s sportsbook director, Johnny Avello.

“We’re able to configure the system so that everybody kind of sees the same thing regardless of what state you’re in, except for where we have additions and deletions, that is whether it’s a college game, a team that can’t be in the future or in some states where we’re allowed to do the contest and not allowed to do it,” he told PlayUSA. “We’re able to turn on and turn off stuff.”

The Illini figures to cost the state of Illinois some tax money. Might be a good month for Indiana’s wagering economy. Virginia – COVID outbreak notwithstanding – and Virginia Tech could do the same for their state, as residents are surrounded by legal options.

Nevada, one of the few states to release handle figures specifically for the Super Bowl and NCAA Tournament, reported that $156.7 million was wagered on the Super Bowl in 2020, which was nowhere close to the $349 million on the last NCAA tourney in 2019.

 

Photo by Ron Jenkins / Associated Press
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Brant James

Brant James is a veteran journalist who has twice been recognized in the Associated Press Sports Editors Awards, most recently in 2020. He's covered motorsports, the National Hockey League and Major League Baseball among a myriad of others beats and written enterprise and sports business for publications including USA TODAY, ESPN.com, SI.com.

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