Two rounds down (not counting the First Four). Four to go. In less than two weeks, the NCAA will crown its men’s basketball national champion.
As the Sweet 16 approaches, however, we know one thing for certain: The champ will not hail from Pennsylvania or New Jersey.
The PA sports betting industry is still young. Postseason from regional teams certainly provide the state’s sportsbooks a boost, particularly Pennsylvania’s de facto hub of Philadelphia sports betting. One weekend into March Madness betting, though, and that presence is gone.
As such, might PA sportsbooks see a decline in business, however much? Several operators in the state do not believe so.
Villanova popular with March Madness betting
Villanova entered the tournament as the defending national champions. The Big East champ came in as a darkhorse to make a run at the title. And its seeding, No. 6, certainly added more intrigue for bettors in Pennsylvania as the Wildcats faced off against 11th-seeded and West Coast Conference champion St. Mary’s.
FanDuel Sportsbook at Valley Forge Casino Resort broke down the opening weekend to individual days. Villanova’s round of 64 matchup against St. Mary’s became one of the most wagered-on games of the tournament’s first day. Two days later, the Wildcats’ loss to No. 3 Purdue also stood as one of the most popular markets.
Similarly, the Villanova-St. Mary’s showdown ranked as the biggest game at SugarHouse in terms of handle. Villanova-Purdue was the sixth-most popular game.
PA March Madness betting extends beyond hometown heroes
Obviously, the location of Villanova (a suburb of Philadelphia) played a role in the aforementioned data. So, too, did the Wildcats’ successful recent history in the tournament.
However, as FanDuel noted, while Villanova topped the list of wagered-on games, the other most popular matchups featured teams from all over the country. Florida, for example, was also among the top games on the same days Villanova played. And the Gators played Nevada and Michigan. Not exactly a regional tie.
“The tournament is new to legal sports betting,” FanDuel said, “but it doesn’t appear that a lack of hometown teams impact the excitement at FanDuel Sportsbook (in New Jersey or Pennsylvania).”
The other most wagered-on games at SugarHouse featured teams from Kentucky and South Carolina, Florida and North Carolina, California, and Oregon, and Wisconsin.
Evan Davis, vice president and general counsel at SugarHouse Casino, offered his take.
“Philly-based teams having success always gives us a boost in visitors, but that’s just a part of the action. Big events like the NCAA tournament creates a thrilling and lively atmosphere no matter who is playing, as was the case all weekend long. As we saw during the NFL playoffs, interest remained high even after the Eagles were eliminated.”
NFL playoff betting impacted by Eagles
As Davis observed, “interest remained high” even after the Philadelphia Eagles lost in the NFC Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs.
No doubt that postseason, coupled with PA sports betting entering just its second full month, led to the state taking in more than $32 million in wagers, which remains the single-month record. At the time, four of the state’s six sportsbooks operated out of Philly. They combined for more than $17.6 million in handle.
In terms of revenue, however, the Eagles did not help much. Other than Parx Sportsbook, which opened just ahead of the Divisional Round and reported nearly $1.2 million, no other Philly-based property topped $105,000 in January PA sports betting revenue. Only Rivers Sportsbook, the monopoly of Pittsburgh sports betting, even sniffed seven figures, finishing with $853,315.68 that month.
Lack of local flavor could help March Madness betting
The Eagles should not have won in the Wild Card. They were underdogs against the NFC North champion Chicago Bears. Philly pulled off the road upset, however, and dug into the wallets of PA sportsbooks.
Even when Parx opened, Matthew Cullen, senior vice president of interactive gaming and sports at the casino, noted that a deep Eagles run could prove costly.
“It could adversely affect business as well if they cover the spread because there is going to be a lot of money on the Eagles, for sure.”
Perhaps, then, the lack of PA teams in the NCAA tournament could be helpful for operators. One could argue that without a familiar face in the tourney, potential bettors might stay away from sportsbooks.
But March Madness is an event. And a popular one, to boot. Experts for TheLines estimated the tournament would draw some $400 million in legal wagers. Of that, Pennsylvania, along with five other states, would contribute approximately $25 million in handle.