BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - December has Christmas, October has Halloween, but sports fans wait all year for the month of March.
It brings out the camaraderie in sports fans who wait all year for March Madness.
The NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament is a single-elimination tournament of 68 teams that compete in seven rounds for the national championship. The penultimate round is known as the Final Four, when only four teams are left.
After being canceled last year due to the pandemic, Round One of March Madness kicked off Friday, bringing with it a frenzy of sports betting to casinos on the Gulf Coast as fans put their money on their favorites.
”It’s a big deal,” said Palace Sportsbook manager Dennis Strong. “Last year, we really missed it. This year, as you can see, the crowd got a little cabin fever and I think they are coming out.”
Fans both casual and hardcore will fill casino sportsbooks and bars for the next few weeks.
“It is a significant increase in volume for this kind of event,” said Strong. “March Madness is actually bigger than the Super Bowl.”
After 24 months, fans have been eagerly anticipating the return of the college basketball tournament.
”We really missed a lot last year so we got a lot of pent up energy, and we’re really ready to take it on in 2021,” said sports bettor Chris Drewes.
There are some changes to the tournament this year. The NCAA is hosting the entire tournament in one geographic location for the first time ever. But the return of March Madness is a sign of progress as we move forward towards a sense of normalcy once again.
“I just thank God from my experience with a medical condition and everything else going on with the pandemic that things are gradually, slowly, but surely, falling back into place. What a blessing,” said sports bettor Rickey Edgar.
In March, part of the normalcy means long lines at sportsbetting counters, as bettors line up, tickets in hand, with betting sheets flying off the rack.
”You don’t come to a test unprepared,” said Drewes. “So we have been doing our research, ready to roll. Brackets haven’t quite been busted yet but it’s getting close.”
It wouldn’t be March without a few upsets, and one of the tournament favorites, Ohio State, soon made a shocking exit on Friday night. Dozens of fans at the Palace Sportsbook grimaced and groaned as the Buckeyes fell short.
”It’s very unexpected, as was the Tennessee loss,” said sports bettor Scottie Horton Jr.
As more SEC teams get into the mix, larger crowds of sports bettors are expected over the weekend and in the following weeks, leading up to the first weekend in April, when the Final Four is expected to happen.
”As SEC teams play, we do see a higher volume in the amount of money bet and the amount of bets and tickets,” said Scarlet Pearl Draft Kings Sportsbook manager Brad Carpenter.
The tournament continues on Saturday with 16 more games, many of which will air on WLOX-CBS. To download a printable bracket for the March Madness 2021 so you can follow along at home, click here.