March Madness bets outpace 2016 spending, study finds

March Madness bets outpace 2016 spending, study finds
© Getty Images

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 ClintonIntel Dem decries White House 'gag order' after Bannon testimony 'Total free-for-all' as Bannon clashes with Intel members Mellman: On Political Authenticity (Part 2) 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) SandersMellman: On Political Authenticity (Part 2) Former Sanders campaign manager: Don't expect email list to be shared with DNC Adult film star: Trump and Stormy Daniels invited me to 'hang out' MORE trails, with more than $81 million in campaign spending. 

On the Republican side, Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzWith religious liberty memo, Trump made America free to be faithful again Interstate compacts aren't the right way to fix occupational licensing laws Texas Dem: ‘I don’t know what to believe’ about what Trump wants for wall MORE has spent $41 million, Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioOvernight Cybersecurity: Bipartisan bill aims to deter election interference | Russian hackers target Senate | House Intel panel subpoenas Bannon | DHS giving 'active defense' cyber tools to private sector Senators unveil bipartisan push to deter future election interference Puerto Rico's children need recovery funds MORE has spent nearly $33 million, Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpDems flip Wisconsin state Senate seat Sessions: 'We should be like Canada' in how we take in immigrants GOP rep: 'Sheet metal and garbage' everywhere in Haiti 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.”