2009 March Madness Will Test Vegas Economy, Online Websites

Written by:
C Costigan
Published on:

While online sports betting seems to be up over last year, the Las Vegas economy has been hard hit.  Vegas like many event-oriented cities is counting on the 2009 March Madness to help give a much needed boost to its ailing economy.  Although Super Bowl wagering numbers were off from last year, that event helped trigger a mini boom in Vegas early last month.

"The NCAA Tournament strikes me as the true test of how sports fans will react to familiar events in difficult times," writes David Barron of the Houston Chronicle.

Unlike the Super Bowl, the 2009 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament will encompass a few weeks stretch where betting takes place throughout, culminating with the much anticipated Final Four. 

What do Vegas bookmakers have to look forward to?

The dollars legally wagered on college and pro basketball in Nevada more than doubled to $228 million in March 2007 from $107 million the previous month, said Frank Streshley, an analyst with the Nevada Gaming Control Board...and of course the previous month featured the Super Bowl.

In February 2004, the amount wagered on basketball games was $77.1 million. In March 2004, that number skyrocketed to $163.9 million, and dropped to $54.9 million in April 2004.

Jay Kornegay, the Executive Director of the Hilton Sportsbook in Las Vegas, said that the average number of betting slips issued at the hotel on a typical Saturday ranged from 600 at the start of the tournament to around 1000 towards the end.

"I always look forward to the start of the NCAA, but by the time we get to the Final Four, we're ready to take a break," Kornegay said.

In the past two decades, the number of people coming to Las Vegas specifically for March Madness has skyrocketed, turning the once obscure college competition into a sports event on par with the Super Bowl in terms of how much money is wagered in the state's sports books, writes David Kihara of Casino City.

So far, online traffic numbers have been up significantly from last year for the two biggest betting events of 2009 at Gambling911.com.  The NCAA Tournament could have a similar impact.

"Last year's (traffic) numbers were substantial from Selection Sunday right through that following Thursday," observed Gambling911.com matriarch, Payton O'Brien. 

Traffic hits last year ranged from 600,000 that Sunday up to just over 800,000 that Thursday.

"This year we are forecasting traffic to range anywhere from 1 million to 2 million over this same period," O'Brien said. 

CBS last year recorded 4.8 million unique visitors with its March Madness on Demand (MMOD) video player over the course of the playoffs, for a 164 percent increase over 1.8 million uniques in 2007.

A CBS spokesperson said the company estimates revenues of $23 million in revenue from MMOD in 2008 (raised from an earlier prediction of $21 million).

Meanwhile, television ratings were down 8 percent throughout the tournament, until they recovered for the finals. The overtime thriller between Memphis and Kansas had 41.7 million viewers, up 3.5 percent from last year.

Online sportsbooks will often fare better than their Vegas counterparts, especially the big boys like SBG Global.  That company's "capture rate" is highly attributed to its contest offering during March Madness.  This year they feature a $500,000 total contest with a grand prize of $175,000 that will be paid out to the lucky individual who has the most correct selections.

Christopher Costigan, Gambling911.com Publisher






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