March Madness bets outpace 2016 spending, study finds

March Madness bets outpace 2016 spending, study finds
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March Madness could prove to be more popular than the 2016 presidential election, a new study suggests.

The college basketball tournament is projected to draw $9.2 billion in sports bets in 2016, according to the American Gaming Association. This would be a 2 percent increase from last year and will likely outpace campaign spending by all of the top presidential candidates combined.

Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillicon Valley: FBI fires Strzok after anti-Trump tweets | Trump signs defense bill with cyber war policy | Google under scrutiny over location data | Sinclair's troubles may just be beginning | Tech to ease health data access | Netflix CFO to step down Signs grow that Mueller is zeroing in on Roger Stone Omarosa claims president called Trump Jr. a 'f--- up' for releasing Trump Tower emails MORE has spent more than $97 million on the 2016 election, according to campaign finance documents filed last week with the Federal Election Commission (FEC). Rival Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersOvernight Health Care: States fight Trump on non-ObamaCare plans | Analysis looks into surprise medical bills | Left hits industry group working against single payer Overnight Energy: Trump Cabinet officials head west | Zinke says California fires are not 'a debate about climate change' | Perry tours North Dakota coal mine | EPA chief meets industry leaders in Iowa to discuss ethanol mandate Sen. Sanders blasts Zinke: Wildfires 'have everything to do with climate change' MORE trails, with more than $81 million in campaign spending. 

On the Republican side, Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzCruz challenger O'Rourke launching .27M TV ad buy focusing on 'positive' message Neo-Nazis hope to leverage Alex Jones controversies one year after Charlottesville violence Texas brewery makes 'Beto Beer' for Democratic Senate candidate MORE has spent $41 million, Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioFlorida questions Senate chairman over claim that Russians have ‘penetrated’ election systems A paid leave plan cannot make you choose between kids or retirement New sanctions would hurt Russia — but hurt American industry more MORE has spent nearly $33 million, Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpAl Gore: Trump has had 'less of an impact on environment so far than I feared' Trump claims tapes of him saying the 'n-word' don't exist Trump wanted to require staffers to get permission before writing books: report MORE has spent nearly $24 million, and John Kasich has spent $7 million.

Campaign spending will pick up during the general election but is unlikely to top the amount of money spent on sports bets during March Madness.

By comparison, President Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney combined to spend just over $2 billion — including money from super-PACS and other outside groups — in the 2012 presidential election, according to OpenSecrets.

What's more, the study predicts the number of March Madness brackets filled out by fans will exceed the number of votes cast for any particular presidential candidate in November.

"The total number of brackets Americans will complete — more than 70 million this year — will likely surpass the number of ballots voters cast for Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton or any other single presidential candidate in the November election,” the American Gaming Association wrote in a statement Monday.

President Obama won 69 million votes in 2008, according to the study, the most votes any candidate has ever received.

Infographic by The American Gaming Association

However, only $262 million of these March Madness bets will be made legally, according to the American Gaming Association, which represents the casino industry.

The American Gaming Association argues the illegal gambling market — which it says grew to nearly $150 billion in 2015 — should be reined in by federal regulators.

“Americans’ passion for betting fuels the unmatched popularity of March Madness,” said Geoff Freeman, president of the American Gaming Association, in a statement.

“Betting increasingly drives sports fans — and even casual observers — to invest in the tournament, offering further evidence that sports betting is the new national pastime,” he added. "It’s time for a fresh, rational approach to sports betting that reflects this reality.”