Iowa Sports Bettors Go All Out For March Madness

Written By Darren Cooper on March 22, 2023
Iowa sports betting brisk for March Madness

Hailed as “the Super Bowl occurring every day for five straight days,” the first weekend of March Madness brought out Iowa sports bettors in big numbers.

Too bad Iowa teams didn’t fare better in the first round of the NCAA tournament last week. Out of the six Iowa teams that entered the tournament (three men’s and three women’s teams), only one team won their first-round game. The Iowa Hawkeyes women’s team also won their second-round game and will play in this weekend’s Sweet 16.

Around 100K made bets on March Madness games in Iowa

Iowa boasts several casinos where bettors can place bets on March Madness games while watching the action on big-screen TVs. There’s also a plethora of Iowa online sports betting options.

Brian Ohorilko, an administrator at the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission, told that approximately 100,000 people within Iowa placed a bet on the NCAA Tournament from last Thursday through Sunday. The state population is just under 3.2 million.

“To give you a comparison, we get 120,000 that registered and participate on the Super Bowl.”

According to the American Gaming Association, the Super Bowl is still the most wagered single-day event in the country. Americans wagered around $16 billion on the game in February. The organization projects that $15.5 billion will be bet on March Madness games this year.

Games were on and the crowds were big at Harrah’s and Horseshoe casinos in Council Bluffs last weekend. Jeffrey Cutri, vice president of operation at both casinos, used the analogy that it was like “back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back days of the Super Bowl.”

Most Iowa teams suffer early exit from March Madness

Note that Ohorilko called it four days, while Cutri said five. That’s because while the men’s tournament had its first two rounds Thursday through Sunday, the women’s opening rounds were Friday through Monday.

The 2-seed Iowa Hawkeyes women’s team crushed 15-seed Southeastern Louisiana (Iowa was favored by 29.5) in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last week, 95-43. The women followed that up by beating 10-seed Georgia, 74-66. The Hawkeyes were favored by 11.5 in that game. The Hawkeyes are now 28-6 and play in the Sweet 16 against 6-seed Colorado on Friday in Seattle. Iowa is 5.5-point favorite.

The 6-seed Iowa Hawkeyes men’s basketball team was beaten in the first round by 9-seed Auburn, 83-75. Auburn had been a 1.5-point favorite.

The six-seed Iowa State men’s team also had an early exit, as they were upset by 11-seed Pittsburgh, 59-41. The 5-seed Iowa State women’s team was also upset, losing to 12-seed Toledo, 80-73.

The 12-seed Drake women’s team almost upset 5-seed Louisville but fell, 83-81. The 12-seed Drake men’s team stayed close to the 5-seed Miami Hurricanes but ultimately lost, 63-56.

Betting could be feverish on Iowa women’s team

March Madness gives bettors a chance to bet on a wide array of teams and props. Ohorilko speculated that gamblers came in from other states to bet legally in Iowa.

“For example, sports betting isn’t legal in Texas, and so it was possible and was expected that we would see some of those fans come to Iowa, register for a sports wagering account and participate.”

Texas is still alive in the tournament, so if Ohorilko is correct, more Texas fans may come to Iowa and bet this week on Sweet 16 and Elite 8 games. Betting should remain brisk on the Hawkeyes women’s team against Colorado.

If they win, they will play the winner of 8-seed Ole Miss and 5-seed Louisville in the Elite 8. One-seed South Carolina remains the tournament’s prohibitive favorite.

A whole new ballgame

New innovations like live in-game betting have made online sports betting more attractive, and also helped boost attendance at casinos. There’s no more placing a bet and then leaving. Bettors can make new bets at halftime or alter their bets depending on the sportsbook after a game starts.

Iowa players have multiple sportsbooks to choose from, including DraftKings, Caesars and BetMGM. The sports betting handle was $193.8 million in February. Sports betting launched in Iowa in 2019.

All good things, however, must come to an end. The men’s Final Four takes place in Houston April 1-3. The women’s Final Four is in Dallas March 31-April 2.

Ohorilko said betting will lesson in Ohio after March Madness concludes.

“We’re getting into the summer. We will expect maybe a little decline in the summer as the baseball season and NBA season aren’t as popular for Iowans.”

Photo by Charlie Neibergall/AP Photo
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Darren Cooper

Darren Cooper was born and raised in Southern Louisiana, just a short pirogue ride away from New Orleans. He started his journalism career at the New Orleans Times-Picayune and has been a writer and columnist in New Jersey since 1998. He's won 14 statewide press awards and earned his first Associated Press Sports Editors Top 10 award in 2022. 

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