Until last year, when that bonanza unexpectedly and suddenly went away.
“Financially, it was just devastating,” Kornegay said. In Las Vegas, sports books were closed from mid-March until June, and casinos similarly struggled with other offerings like slot machines, table games and amenities like hotel rooms and restaurants.
Some betting shifted to mobile wagering, which more and more brick-and-mortar outlets are offering, as people eager for action searched far and wide for new betting options. “We’ve seen record numbers on the mobile app over the last seven or eight months,” Kornegay said. “It’s now about 70 percent of our total handle.”
This year, restrictions in Las Vegas and elsewhere will mean sports books will be limited to between 33 percent and 50 percent of their normal capacity.
At Beau Rivage in Biloxi, Miss., one of many casinos around the country that has added sports betting over the past few years, there will be limits on seating capacity and mandates on spacing of tables. Still, officials there and at other sports books around the country expect basketball fans will return.
“We will definitely fill 100 percent of what we’re allowed to,” said Will Hall, the Beau Rivage race and sports book manager. Other casinos are predicting sellouts, too.
“People are really jonesing for March Madness,” Bogdanovich said.
Changes to the schedule this year, though, could have a ripple effect on business. The opening four days will all be shifted a day forward. Holding the first round on Friday and Saturday may not make a huge difference, several bookmakers said, but holding Round 2 on Sunday and Monday will have a negative impact.
The round of 16 games, normally played on a Thursday and Friday, will be held on March 27 and 28, a Saturday and Sunday, setting bookmakers up for big days. But the regional finals that send teams to the Final Four, usually a weekend quartet of games but now set for a Monday and Tuesday, are “probably going to be the worst ever,” Kornegay said.