It’s that time of year again! The selections have been made, and the teams have been seeded; all that’s left now is to get this tournament started. If you work in an office building, or merely don’t live under a rock, you’ve inevitably been hearing about March Madness.
The March Madness tournament is how NCAA basketball crowns their champion each year. It’s a 68-team, single-elimination tournament held all over the country in fourteen different locations, ending with the championship game in San Antonio, Texas. Due to the youthful inexperience of the players and the extreme unpredictability of single-elimination tournaments in general, every year, the competition showcases the top college talent in the country, thrilling upsets, and inspiring Cinderella stories.
With such an anticipated, widely-viewed sporting event, of course, comes sports gambling. In fact, March Madness is the second largest sports betting event of the year, behind only the Super Bowl. Between all of the office pools and the tremendous slate of matchups to bet on individually, there’s just nothing quite like March Madness. But before you start filling in that bracket and placing your bets, you’ll want to find the best betting sites for the job. That’s where we come in!
The Best March Madness Betting Sites for 2019
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What We Look for in a March Madness Betting Site
When it comes to placing sports bets online, there can be an overwhelming number of options available. The problem is that they aren’t all equal, and they certainly aren’t all legitimate. If you are curious and want an in-depth article about how we determine betting sites’ legitimacy, we have the perfect site for you.
Additionally, here are some of the criteria that go into our rankings of the best March Madness betting sites.
Trustworthiness and Safety
The most important aspect of any online betting site is that it’s safe and trustworthy. Our team of experts researches a site’s history and reputation as well as their terms of service to ensure that everything is on the up-and-up before we pass anything along to our readers. After all, the best way to predict future performance is by studying past actions.
We also look into reviews left by previous customers of the sites we vet. These can tell you quite a bit about how a betting website handles their clientele and show you patterns such as slow payout issues, should they exist. Also, we study industry blacklists to make sure our recommended gambling sites haven’t earned a bad reputation for unethical or unfair behavior.
Ease of Use
Another critical factor is that the website is well designed, logical to navigate, and easy to use. On the surface, this may not seem like a significant quality, but it actually can have quite the impact on your betting. Whether it’s because you need to place a bet while a line is sitting right at that perfect number or because the game is about to start and you need to get your bet placed before it’s pulled from the board, there are times you need to be able to find what you’re looking for and place your bets quickly.
A professionally-designed betting site can also play a role in how enjoyable live betting will be. If you’re wanting to bet during the March Madness games, you’ll want a straightforward interface that displays what’s going on in the game and all of the individual bets you can make from play to play. The easier the betting site is to use, the better your customer experience will be, which is our primary concern.
Variety of Wagers
We also look for betting sites that offer a wide range of wagers that you can make. While some gamblers may be okay with merely picking winners and making moneyline bets, others will specialize in betting on halftime scores, totals, or even various prop bets. The more options you have at your disposal, the more opportunity you will have to identify and exploit mispriced lines.
Winning at sports gambling is all about finding value, which happens when the bookmaker sets the odds at a lower implied probability than the actual likelihood of the outcome. They are typically very good at setting the odds for the popular wagers such as moneyline bets, point spreads, and totals. But the more specific and niche you can make your betting specialty, the more probable it will be that you can exploit some weak odds.
Furthermore, we want online bookmakers with a broader range of options because they make things more entertaining for our bettors. Around March Madness, in particular, there are always fun prop bets and creative wagers that can make gambling on the tournament a ton of fun. So, this is another quality we prioritize when ranking our recommendations.
Quality Customer Service
No matter what company you’re dealing with in almost any industry, the quality of customer service frequently plays a primary role in your experience as a customer. Online sports gambling is no different in this regard. While we check our trusted sites for excellent customer service, this is something that you should look into as well before signing up or depositing money.
The first thing you want to check is that it’s easy to find and access the customer service page of the betting site. Once you’re there, there should be a “Frequently Asked Questions” section and multiple ways to contact the company. Ideally, there will be at least these three methods of communication with their customer service department:
- Instant Messaging
Once you’ve verified that they have multiple contact methods, take a few minutes to ensure that they are operational and are regularly monitored. Call the provided phone numbers and make sure they are answered and that it’s easy to get to a person that can help with your issues. Also, send a test email to the email address and see how long it takes them to respond. Lastly, start up a chat in the instant messaging window and see how quickly they come to your aid, as well as if they are pleasant, understanding, and helpful.
Variety of Banking Options
We also prefer to pass along betting websites that offer a full range of banking options. Depending on where you are wagering from, this variable may be extremely serious.
In the United States, where it is illegal for banking institutions to process transactions with known gambling operations, customers will need to utilize alternative funding methods such as Bitcoin or certain e-wallets since their credit and debit cards will not be allowed.
You also want a wide variety of banking choices because the different methods vary in the amount of time they take to process. If you are someone that wishes to receive a paper check when you cash out, you need to find a website that offers that option, although these usually take weeks to complete. If you’re looking to deposit through one avenue, but withdraw as quickly as possible, you’ll need a site that offers Bitcoin or certain e-wallet transactions that can range from immediate payouts to a couple of days.
Speaking of payout options, we also prioritize the speed at which our online sportsbooks can process withdrawal requests. This is an incredibly important attribute of a trustworthy betting site, as it’s often the primary difference between legitimate sportsbooks and scam operations. The money in your account is yours; it should be easy to receive when you need it.
Unethical betting sites will purposely set unreasonably low withdrawal limits as a way of slowing down the rate at which you may take out your money. These are used in the hopes that you will grow impatient while waiting for your next payout and gamble away the money left in your account. In fact, many scam sites make it part of their business model to delay or ignore payout requests with this same desire in mind.
Sportsbooks already get the luxury of setting the lines with a built-in bookmakers’ advantage. They don’t also need to make a profit by manipulating your ability to withdraw your own money.
The bottom line is that it’s YOUR money, and you should be able to access it at your convenience.
That’s why we take payout speeds so seriously when choosing the best March Madness betting sites.
Bonuses and Rewards Programs
You’ll also notice from our list of recommendations that we include the bonuses being offered by each online bookmaker. These entry-level bonuses typically involve matching a certain percentage of the amount new customers deposit, or possibly free bets for players upon signing up for an account. These prizes can be very alluring, but they also mostly come with significant strings attached.
The more valuable extras come in the form of loyalty rewards programs. Depending on how frequently you place bets, as well as how large your average bet is, these gifts can be extremely worthwhile. The average sports bettor can expect prizes ranging from a percentage of your losses being returned in cash or enrollment in raffles or contests to points that can be used in the company merchandise store. For the high rollers, loyalty rewards can take the form of exotic vacations, large sums of cash back on losses, or even the occasional vehicle.
Some websites will offer specific bonuses for events like March Madness. Since you’re already planning to wager on the tournament, you might as well choose the sportsbook that wants to sweeten the deal. They may offer special prizes for the gamblers with the most accurate brackets, or simply give increased rewards points for betting the tournament games. Whatever the case, the more they sweeten the deal, the better the situation is for you.
By the time late February rolls around each year, you start hearing the sports pundits on television discussing “bracketology.” When they use this word, they are talking about predicting which teams will be invited to the March Madness tournament, and where they will be seeded. These experts study the metrics that the NCAA employs to determine which programs will make it in and which will be left playing in the NIT.
“Bracketology” can also be used to describe the process of picking which schools will win the tournament. Studying the various teams and attempting to forecast who will advance and who will be eliminated may also be considered bracketology. In the weeks leading up to the NCAA Championship tournament, the world of sports media is inundated with bracketologists making predictions and sharing their brackets.
Every year, the tournament bracket is divided into the following four sectors.
In most years, these are the regions that are used, although they may change slightly depending on the host regions.
Some years may include a “Southeast” or “Southwest” like in 2011 when two of the sites were in New Orleans, Louisiana, and San Antonio, Texas, respectively. When making your picks, it’s worth noting which teams are playing in regions close to their school, and thus their fanbase.
Sixty-eight teams are chosen to participate in the March Madness tournament at the conclusion of each season. The first thirty-two teams are easy to place, as they are automatically included by winning their individual conference championships. Where things get interesting is during the selection of the remaining thirty-six entrants.
A selection committee is charged with choosing which additional teams will compete in the tournament. The committee is comprised of ten members: a combination of athletic directors and conference commissioners throughout Division I athletics. The members are purposely chosen from around the country with the intention of ensuring all conferences are represented in the process. Members must leave the room when their school (for athletic directors), or conference (for commissioners) is discussed.
The programs that are picked despite losing their conference tournaments are called “at-large” bids. The teams traditionally come from the top conferences, such as the Big Ten, the ACC, the SEC, the Big 12, and the Pac-12, although a standout squad from any conference has a chance. At-large teams are selected by taking numerous factors into account. These are some of the variables we know the committee weighs when making their choices.
- RPI Rankings – The Rating Percentage Index is a quantity used to rank the teams and is calculated by some combination of a team’s record, strength of schedule, and the quality of their wins and losses.
- ESPN’s BPI – The Basketball Power Index is a number between 0-100 meant to represent how far above or below the average a team has performed. It is used to predict future performance and is calculated by taking into account factors such as opponent strength, pace of play, site, travel distance, day’s rest, and altitude with the intention of quantifying how challenging the team’s record was to achieve.
- Injured Players – The committee will consider whether a program has been missing an impact player during the season, which may have affected their records, or if they won’t have an athlete available in the tournament that was instrumental in the team’s regular season standings.
- Record against other schools already accepted into the tournament.
- Team performances on neutral courts.
- Strength of schedule in non-conference games.
- Overall conference strength.
- The “eye test.”
“First Four” Play-in Games
The real tournament consists of sixty-four teams playing in a single-elimination competition. However, before that process can begin, there are the First Four to decide the final four entries into the bracket. The first two days of March Madness include two play-in games apiece.
In an effort to reduce the number of teams that feel snubbed each year, the NCAA expanded the number of play-in games to include eight teams that were “on the bubble.” The four lowest-seeded teams which received automatic bids for winning weak conferences compete for two of the 16-seed spots on the bracket. An additional four at-large bids play for the honor of occupying either the eleventh or twelfth seed in two of the regions.
Once all of the colleges have been selected and the play-in games are complete, it’s time to start March Madness! The teams are matched up according to the seed. The first seed plays the sixteenth, the second battles the fifteenth, the third plays the fourteenth, and so on. A single loss means a team is eliminated from the competition. This is how the rounds progress:
- Round of 64 – First round of the tournament
- Round of 32 – Second round of the tournament
- Sweet 16 – The semifinals for each region
- Elite 8 – Regional finals
- Final Four – National semifinals between regional champions
- Championship Game
Filling Out a Bracket
Once the teams have all been selected and seeded, March Madness hysteria truly begins. Whether you’re betting online or taking place in an office pool, millions of participants all around the country make their predictions regarding how the tournament will play out by filling out their own bracket. You choose which teams will advance from each matchup until you’ve eventually made your prediction for the NCAA National Champion.
For additional information and strategies for filling out your March Madness bracket, check out the following article:
Ways to Bet on the Tournament
As we’ve mentioned previously, the NCAA Division I Tournament is the second-most heavily-wagered-on sporting event of the year. With a total of 67 games to bet on, this means lots of opportunities to bet on college basketball. Beyond merely filling out a bracket and entering a betting pool, each individual game presents many options for sports gamblers.
Here are some of the various options for those wishing to wager throughout the tournament.
Your average sports betting wager is made before a contest begins. Once it’s time for tip-off, the odds are pulled off the board, and you may no longer place a bet. Well, this is not the case with live betting.
Some online sportsbooks provide live betting opportunities during March Madness. You can pick an individual game, then make a vast range of bets while the action plays out in real time. There are bets on the number of points that will be scored in each half, which team will score the next basket, and even which player will commit the next foul.
If you’re looking for an interactive sports betting experience that drastically increases the excitement of each and every play, check out live betting. The odds are continually adjusting in response to the action on the court, which means lots of opportunities to spot weak lines and time your bets for when the odds are most valuable. For more information about live betting and some strategies to consider, check out our dedicated article below:
Moneyline betting is when you are specifically trying to pick the winning team. The two teams playing will each be offered odds in the form of either a positive or negative three-digit number. This value will represent how drastically each side is favored and determine what the payout for betting either team will be.
For example, when number-one seeded Villanova is playing the sixteenth seed Radford squad, they will be heavy betting favorites. When you see the game on the board, the odds will look like this:
- Villanova -450
- Radford +425
What this means is that for every $450 staked on Villanova, you will win 100 dollars. On the other hand, a $100 bet on Radford to win will pay out $425 should they score a major upset. To learn more about betting the moneyline, read our article about it here:
Sometimes deciding which college will triumph is more difficult than predicting how the game will play out. You might not know which program will prevail, but you know that the two schools will produce a high-scoring game. For these situations, there is totals betting.
Totals, or over-unders, are wagers placed on the total, combined number of points that will be scored by both teams in a game. These bets are most commonly made on the number of points scored, but they can also be offered on anything from the total number of fouls committed to the number of three-pointers shot.
The bookmakers will set a line based on how they forecast the game playing out and what number will bring in an equal number of bets on each side. The bettors then decide if they think the combined final score will be a value higher or lower than the line.
So, if Wichita State is matching up against West Virginia in the second round and the sportsbooks anticipate a high-scoring affair, they may set the line at 158.5. You then decide if you think the total amount of points scored in the game will go “over” or “under.” The half-point is used to ensure that there are no ties.
For a more in-depth break down of totals betting and some strategies for making these wagers, enjoy the following article on the topic:
March Madness is the perfect opportunity to place futures bets. As the name suggests, these are wagers that are made on an event that will be determined down the road rather than on a single contest. Because these bets commonly involve an entire field of possibilities rather than two teams matched up against each other, the choices are offered in fractional odds.
Before the tournament begins, a typical futures bet would be placed on which team will win it all. Each participant in March Madness will be given odds. The top teams may be offered at prices like 2-to-1, meaning they pay out two dollars for every one wagered. The lower the seed, the longer the odds. A team like the Penn Quakers may have odds like 100-to-1.
You will also find futures bets on things like Final Four participants or Most Outstanding Player. If you’d like to read more about futures bets and how you should approach gambling on them, check out the article on this specific topic below:
Proposition bets are where sports betting can get really fun. These are odds offered on any number of possibilities and outcomes. They don’t necessarily have to be about which team wins or how many points are scored; they can be about absolutely anything, limited only by the bookmaker’s imagination.
You may find March Madness prop bets offering odds on which team will win the opening tip-off, for instance. Another favorite tournament prop bet is “Which player on the championship team will cut down the net?” Depending on the bookmaker, these can get incredibly humorous and often absurd.
If you’d like a deeper understanding of proposition bets, click the following link and explore our page explicitly covering prop betting in detail:
Due to the high volume of games played per day during March Madness, particularly in the earlier rounds, the tournament lends itself well to parlay bets. These are wagers in which you combine two or more individual bets into a single ticket for higher payouts. However, if any single wager on the ticket loses, the entire stake is lost.
Sometimes gamblers will want to make numerous picks on the same game, so they’ll combine a moneyline bet on the winning team with a totals bet on the number of points scored. So, if you expect Villanova to win a high-scoring game, you’d bet on “Villanova and the over.” Should this parlay win, you’d earn significantly more money than if you made those two wagers individually.
You can make your parlay cards as large as you want, although each additional bet added on makes winning less probable. When you get into the eight-to-ten-pick parlays, the chances of winning are almost zero, but should you get extremely lucky, the payouts are immense. They can be similar to playing the lottery in that way.
If you’d like to read more about parlay bets and learn some useful strategies regarding how to build winning parlay cards, read the following linked article:
Because teams are so unevenly matched at times, especially in a tournament like March Madness, moneyline bets are occasionally undesirable. If a team is too heavily favored, you have to risk amounts of money that may not be worth the potential payout. For this reason, point spreads were created.
Point spreads are used to handicap the competition and give each team even odds of winning. This is done by taking points away from one side or giving them to the other.
Let’s look at Villanova versus Radford in the first round. To make the odds for this game even, the bookmakers assign a twenty-point spread.
If you bet on Villanova -20, you need them to win by more than twenty points to “cover the spread” and win the bet. When the final score is tallied, you subtract twenty points from ‘Nova’s final score; if they still have more points, you win the bet. If you choose to bet on Radford +20, you need the sixteenth-seeded team to either win, or lose by less than twenty points.
For a more in-depth understanding of point spreads, why to bet them, and tips for gambling on them successfully, check out our article highlighting these wagers below:
Helpful Basic Betting Tips
Now that we’ve covered what March Madness is, how it’s organized, and what your options are for gambling on it, you’re almost ready to start placing your bets! But before you get started, there are a few more things you should think about. Here are some basic sports gambling tips to keep in mind to maximize your success when wagering on the NCAA Basketball Championship Tournament.
Bankroll management is a crucial concept no matter what kind of gambling you are partaking in. What this means is that you plan ahead and set aside an amount of money that you can afford to lose without it negatively impacting your life. Once you’ve settled on a figure, you only use those funds for your betting.
Once you’ve got your bankroll figured out, you just have to decide how often you plan to bet. Let’s say you’ve set aside $6,700 to gamble with during March Madness. If you plan to make a bet on every game from the First Four through the Championship, you will wager $100 per contest. There are more advanced staking plans that take into account confidence in your picks, but we wanted to give just the basics here.
For a more thorough breakdown of bankroll management and staking plans, read all about both topics by following these links:
Don’t Pick Too Many Upsets
One of the great things about March Madness is the Cinderella stories and the shocking upsets. Every year, some unexpected low-seeded team comes out and shocks the world by eliminating a much higher-ranked program. What’s fun about filling out a bracket is trying to predict when these monumental upsets are going to happen.
But don’t fall into the trap of picking too many underdog victories. For the most part, the top-seeded teams advance far into the tournament, and the lesser schools are eliminated. The upsets are going to happen, but limit yourself to 2-4 underdog picks when you fill out your bracket. Also, keep the choices realistic; the sixteenth seed never eliminates the first seed, but the fourth seed can fall to the twelfth.
Coaching Is King in College Basketball
If you’ve been following March Madness for more than a few years, you’ve probably noticed a pattern. Many of the same programs advance far into the program year after year, despite having entirely new rosters almost every season. One of the reasons is because the top basketball schools attract the best talents, but it also has to do with coaching.
There are several legendary coaches in NCAA basketball that have proven they can get the most out of their athletes nearly every season. Coaches like Tom Izzo at Michigan State and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski always lead a competitive team and frequently make deep runs in the tournament. In college basketball, when two teams are relatively evenly matched, the legendary coach will beat the team with a slightly better roster a significant amount of the time.
Who Has the One-and-Done Players?
While the rules appear to be changing soon, at the moment athletes are required to spend one year out of high school before joining the NBA. As a result, the best players in the nation are commonly freshmen that would otherwise be playing professionally if not for the rules. These athletes are labeled “one-and-done” players because it’s understood that they’ll only be staying in college for a single season before declaring for the NBA draft.
In the years since the rule was implemented, these players have decided many March Madness tournaments. Before making any decisions on your bracket, research which athletes are expected to be first-round picks the following year. What they lack in experience, they make up for in athleticism and talent.
Shop for the Best Lines
To have any chance of winning at sports gambling long term, you have to place bets with the concept of value in mind. This means you aren’t just looking at games and picking the winner. Instead, you’re forecasting the likelihood of either team winning and comparing that percentage to the odds being offered by the bookmaker.
Before placing your bet, research the odds that are being offered by a few different online sportsbooks. If you can get slightly better odds or a marginally more advantageous point spread, it’s worth your time to only bet under the most favorable conditions. Bets are frequently decided by a half-point or the slightest of margins.
Furthermore, even a tiny difference in moneyline odds matters. It may not seem to make a meaningful impact on a single wager, but over time, these marginally greater payouts will add up. Depending on the implied probability from the odds, the tiniest incremental change can move a line from a negative to a positive value bet, thus making it worth gambling on.
Bet Teams You’re Familiar With
With a tournament like March Madness, it can be easy to get caught up in the excitement and bet on everything. But before you do, think about how much time you’ve spent watching most of the programs in the tournament. Very few people have enough free time in their days to follow sixty-eight college basketball programs while keeping track of their rosters, strengths, and weaknesses.
Instead of betting on all the games, stick to the schools with which you’re most familiar.
You may know more about the tendencies and trends of your local university than the majority of the betting public and even the bookmakers. Those are the games in which you have a real opportunity to win money. It’s fun to make tons of bold predictions during March Madness, but if you’re hoping to profit from gambling on it, focus more on the teams you’ve watched and know best.
Never Chase Your Losses
There are going to be some years that your bracket does better than others. If you’ve had a rough couple rounds and lost a string of consecutive games, it’s normal to want to turn things around aggressively. You know how often your picks are usually right, so after an uncharacteristic losing streak, you probably feel “due” for a big win.
With this in mind, people will start making larger and larger bets in an effort to recoup their losses and get things headed back in the right direction. Resist the urge to do any of this! This is called “chasing your losses,” and it’s the way many gamblers get themselves into significant trouble. It’s what we hope to avoid by using bankroll management and disciplined staking plans.
Chasing your losses will fail you much more frequently than it will reverse your fortunes. It’s best to understand that mathematically hot and cold streaks are bound to happen. If you stick to your plans and continue shopping for value and handicapping games to the best of your ability, the math will work itself out, and your luck will change for the better eventually. It’s not worth risking the devastating consequences of chasing your losses to try and force the change faster.
More March Madness Articles
Now that you have a basic foundation of understanding regarding March Madness and you know how to find the best online betting sites, it’s time to take your sports gambling to the next level. For more on the NCAA Championship tournament, check out the following articles. Whether you’d like to learn more about the history of the competition or you just need tips on hosting your own March Madness office pool, we’ve got you covered.
- History of March Madness
- The Best March Madness Teams of All Time
- Betting Tips for Winning at March Madness
- How to Spot an Upset in March Madness
- How to Host Your Office’s March Madness Pool
- The Best March Madness Games in NCAA History
The Wrap Up
March Madness is one of those sporting events that transcends fandom. A vast portion of the population fills out brackets and bets on the tournament despite not watching many games or following college basketball the rest of the year. Offices all over the country hold pools, websites host contests to find the most accurate bracket, and sportsbooks break out their most creative odds for their second-most popular event of the year.
If you’re looking to wager on the tournament games, the first step is to find the right sportsbook. Online gambling can be a dangerous prospect if you don’t know which operations are safe and which websites are just scams. That’s why our experts spend so much time researching online betting sites.
Rather than have you taking chances and hoping for the best, we’ve gone ahead and done the hard work for you. We’ve found the most trustworthy and reliable online bookmakers on the internet and ranked them on our list of recommendations so you can save time and get straight to the fun stuff. Now all you have to do is fill in your bracket, shop for the best odds, and pick some winners!