SBC Americas spoke with Benjie Cherniak of Don Best Sports, part of Scientific Games, to cover off a couple of the main talking points around this year’s NCAA basketball tournament. A big fan of March Madness, Cherniak offers some interesting perspectives.

SBC Americas: What impact do you think the legalization of sports betting will have on college basketball betting in this year’s NCAA Tournament?

Benjie Cherniak: The NCAA Tournament has always been a massive event on the US sports betting calendar, capturing the imagination of fans across the country.  Students, alumni and supporters cheer on their teams while across the country friends gather together to watch – and bet – the games. As per the latest report from our friends at H2 Gambling Capital, the cumulative handle of this year’s three-week tournament is projected to be close to double that of the Super Bowl.

Legislation of sports betting adds to the equation as it legitimizes the betting component. In addition to filling out a bracket in an office pool, betting with a legislated bookmaker will become more mainstream and ultimately viewed as culturally acceptable, in particular as more states open up. The online component in states such as New Jersey will introduce casual bettors to the excitement of the in-game betting component, which can further enhance the NCAA Tournament experience.  

Another dynamic to consider is the impact the tournament will have on in-venue sports betting.  As anyone who has visited Las Vegas in March will tell you, the opening weekend of the tournament is amongst the busiest of the year for the sportsbook operators as fans from across the country flock to Nevada to bet the games and cheer for their teams. Expect a similar dynamic in Mississippi, New Jersey and Pennsylvania as fans and bettors from those regions will congregate at sportsbooks to watch the games. Operators who invested in state of the art sportsbooks will reap the rewards for the next few weeks.  

SBC Americas: Do you have any predictions for this year’s tournament in terms of standout teams and players?

Benjie Cherniak: Duke always delivers a standout team and this year is no exception.  They struggled a bit down the stretch with injuries but the return of Zion Williamson – the undisputed #1 prospect in this year’s NBA draft – makes them as tough as anyone in the field.  It doesn’t hurt that they also have Canadian RJ Barrett, the consensus #2 pick, playing alongside Zion.

Other teams to look out for include Duke’s heated ACC rivals North Carolina and Virginia, albeit the latter a year ago was the first ever #1 seed to lose to a #16 seed in tournament play. Gonzaga is the pride of the West Coast and arguably the team with the most depth in the field of 68. Keep an eye on the state of Michigan as well, with both the Wolverines and their cross-state rivals the Spartans assembling teams capable of a deep tourney run.  

If looking for a lower seeded team who can potentially upset the apple cart, the Murray State Racers fit the bill.  Sophomore guard Ja Morant is an absolute stud averaging almost 25 points and 10 assists per game. If he gets hot, they can definitely bust up your bracket opening weekend.  

The above opinions are personal to the interviewee and do not represent the views of Scientific Games Corporation or its subsidiaries.  © 2019 Scientific Games Corporation. All rights reserved.