March Madness is here. In fact, the first round of the 2018 NCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball Championship kicks off Thursday night.

Millions of Americans across the country, including New Jersey, will be watching. However, there’s a good chance they’re interested in more than just who will be crowned National Champion this year. Most will want to know who has the best bracket and who will take down the office pool. Others will wonder which underdog team can help them get the best of their bookie.

And almost all will be wondering just which way the winds will blow when the Supreme Court decides the fate of the NJ sports betting case.

How much do Americans bet on March Madness?

According to the American Gaming Association (AGA), Americans will bet more than $10 billion on March Madness games this year. Betting on college basketball games is still against the law pretty much everywhere outside of Nevada. As a result, the AGA estimates some $9.7 billion of that money will be bet illegally.

Most of the money will be wagered through bookies with ties to organized crime or on illegal offshore online sportsbooks. Plus, some will be wagered on those March Madness bracket pools. Despite their popularity, they are still against the law in most states.

In fact, the AGA says approximately two-thirds of the country has state laws making it illegal to participate in sports pools with cash on the line. That includes filling out an NCAA tournament bracket. However, the AGA also estimates 10 percent of American adults, close to 24 million people, have spent nearly $3 billion over the past year on those same college basketball pools.

Atlantic City casinos and the NJ sports betting case

Atlantic City casinos will be among the most popular places in the state to watch the Madness again this March. The elephant in the different rooms is the fact most people will have something riding on more than just the video poker machine in front of them.

Of course, there’s hope for the future. Plus, there’s a chance what’s going on in the darkness will soon be brought into the light — a chance that elephant won’t be invited next year.

New Jersey lawmakers passed a bill seeking to legalize sports betting at racetracks and casinos in 2011. Major professional and amateur sports leagues, including the NCAA, took the state to court.

They were successful in having the NJ sports betting law struck down. However, the state tried again in 2014, passing a second bill aimed at legalizing sports betting. The leagues filed another lawsuit, and the courts struck down the NJ sports betting law again.

New Jersey appealed. The first appeals were denied. However, the state was ultimately successful in getting the Supreme Court of the United States to hear its case against the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA). PASPA is the federal law that makes sports betting illegal everywhere except Nevada. Parlay bets in Delaware and Game Square wagering in Montana are also exempt.

SCOTUS heard oral arguments in the case in December 2017. All indications are a decision will be released in June of this year.

More than a dozen states have since lined up to pass sports betting bills that would legalize the activity if SCOTUS rules in New Jersey’s favor. Momentum is certainly behind sports betting.

In fact, it looks like legal sports betting markets will open up across the US by the time the 2019 NCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball Championship starts.

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March Madness next year

That means a good percentage of that $9.7 billion illegally wagered on the tournament this year will be bet above board next time.

It also means Atlantic City casinos will be an even more popular place to watch the games in 2019. Most will construct state-of-the-art sportsbooks — a place where gamblers can enjoy the games in style and make all kinds of bets. One of AC’s newest casinos, Ocean Resort Casino, has already put into motion a top-notch sportsbook ahead of its summer opening. Plus, they won’t have to be quiet about the bets any longer.

Imagine multiple flat screens, LED video walls, and dozens of betting kiosks making sure you never miss a moment of the action, or the chance to wager on it live and legally.

March Madness is usually filled with surprise upsets, last-second heroics, and all the excitement that makes basketball one of the most popular spectator sports in the country. This year’s tournament should be just as fun.

It just sounds like next’s year’s tournament, without the elephant, will be even better.