The NCAA’s March Madness Tournament is here, and if you’re not already bummed out about your bracket being screwed (thanks for nothing, stupid Spartans), here’s some more pretty crazy news: According to the American Gaming Association, more than 70 million Americans will have filled out a bracket by now, a figure greater than the total votes that any presidential candidate is expected to get in November.
And with the culture that’s been created around the event, are you surprised? Warren Buffett has promised one million dollars a year for life to any employee of his who perfectly predicts their Sweet Sixteen brackets. President Obama revealing his picks has become an annual tradition. Drake even got a championship ring from University of Kentucky in 2012 just because they appreciated him being a fan.
Dr. Timothy W. Fong MD, c0-director of the UCLA Gambling Studies Program explained that March Madness has become such a cultural touchstone over the last 35 years partially because it comes in the middle of national sports lull. The Super Bowl has come and gone, NBA and NHL playoffs don’t arrive until summer, and baseball is still bumming around in spring training.
Along with an increased participation in bracket picks, an estimated $9.2 billion dollars will be wagered during the sudden elimination tournament. Only about $262 million of that figure will be gambled legally, with the large majority of the money being wagered through office pools, online gambling, and offshore trading bets—all of which can be qualified as illegal. “You’re thinking winners, you’re putting money into it in hopes of trying to win more money. Fundamentally that’s gambling,” says Fong.
Though office pools have become a part of workplace culture, Fong notes the surprisingly high percentage of the population that suffers from gambling addiction. “There’s always one person in the office that’s trying to generate it or organizes it, and everyone’s getting excited, trying to win that jackpot,” he says.